The global record business will soon pop the champagne to celebrate another year of streaming-led revenue growth, judging from the handful of individual country revenue figures for 2023 made public so far this year. The IFPI won’t release its 2023 report until Thursday (Mar. 21), but major markets such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Japan have already released data that shows 2023 produced another bumper harvest for record labels.  

But while streaming continues to push markets in positive directions, growth has slowed, and revenue in some markets remains well below the levels of the CD era. Worse yet, some countries may have insufficient streaming growth to get back to earlier peaks.   

SNEP, the recorded music trade group in France, issued a stark warning this week when it announced that the country’s 2023 revenue rose a respectable 5.1% to 968 million euros ($1.05 billion at the average exchange rate in 2023). But even though digital revenue rose 8.8% to 620 million euros ($671 million) and streaming revenue climbed 9.2%, a 10% increase in subscription streaming revenue “remains too weak to fully fuel the development of the market even though it is the primary source of value creation,” SNEP wrote in its 2023 report.  

France might reasonably be expected to be faring better in 2024. The country was the sixth-largest recorded music market in 2022, according to the IFPI, and is the home of Deezer, an early entrant to the music subscription market. But in 2023, France had only a 16% penetration rate for paid subscribers, according to SNEP, “one of the lowest among the main music territories. The growth in revenue from these subscriptions is slowing down here while our market is far from having reached maturity.” This isn’t a brand-new concern: SNEP sounded the same alarm a year ago. 

So, while streaming is creating new opportunities globally for labels, publishers and creators, it hasn’t grown enough to help France recapture revenue lost during the fall of the CD in the 2000s. France’s revenue of 968 million euros in 2023 was 25% below the 1.3 billion euros of revenue it enjoyed in 2002. In contrast, the U.S. market’s $15.9 billion in recorded music revenue was well above the peak of the CD era, $14.5 billion, set in 1999, according to the RIAA.

Elsewhere, some major recorded music markets have announced decent gains in 2023 without voicing the kind of dire warning seen in France.  

The German recorded music industry grew 6.3% in 2023, the BVMI announced Mar. 6. Digital revenue grew 8.4% and accounted for 81.5% of total revenue. Audio streaming rose 8.4% and accounted for 74.8% of the total market and 92% of digital revenue. Physical sales accounted for 18.5% of total revenue and rose 0.1% from 2022. CD sales dropped 5.9% but accounted for 11.3% of total revenue and about 61% of physical revenue. Vinyl sales grew 12.6%.  

Spain’s recorded music market grew 12.3% to 520 million euros in 2023, Promusicae announced Tuesday (Mar. 12). Streaming grew 17.3% to 398.6 million euros ($432 million) and accounted for 77% of total revenue, which was a remarkable 150% higher than the low point of 159.7 million euros ($212 million) in 2013. But, like France, Spain has yet to match its peak revenue from the CD era. Last year’s revenue was on par with the 475 million euros ($534 million) seen in 2005, itself a sharp decline from revenue that surpassed 700 million euros ($630 million) in 2001.

Aside from SNEP in France, only the BPI in the United Kingdom sounded an alarm of any sort. The market’s recorded revenue rose 8.1% in 2023 to a record 1.43 billion pounds ($1.78 billion), the organization announced Thursday (Mar. 14), with streaming revenue increasing 8.4% to 962 million pounds ($1.2 billion) and accounting for 67.4% of total revenue, up from 67.3% in 2022 and well above the 8.6% seen a decade earlier. But BPI CEO Dr. Jo Twist cautioned not to take the growth for granted and emphasized the need for “significant label investment” to keep the market prosperous.  

There’s a reason the kind of gains music markets are seeing currently might not feel like unqualified success stories: inflation. Adjusted for inflation, revenue in France last year was actually 48% below 2002; and in 2022, the United States was 38% below its 1999 peak. 

These major markets’ failure to return to CD-era highs helps explain the music business’s unprecedented land rush as companies invest in developing markets in search of export-ready artists and untapped streaming potential. Both majors and independents are investing in Africa, the Middle East/North Africa, Asia and South America — regions with large populations, under-monetized streaming markets and exportable music that could generate royalties in Western countries.  

Those developing markets, and some major ones like the United States and United Kingdom, helped global recorded music trade revenue reach a new high of $24 billion in 2021, surpassing the $23.2 billion from 1999 (unadjusted for inflation). While both the United States and United Kingdom surpassed their CD era peaks in 2021 (without adjusting for inflation), some other major markets are still trying to recapture their glory days. Growth-minded companies in those markets may have to look beyond their borders to get there.

Glenn Peoples
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