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Streaming music beats CDs for the first time

Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 19, 2015

Did it really take that long?

For the first time, streaming music drew more annual revenue than CDs, according to a Recording Industry Association of America report released Wednesday.

There are now 7.7 million Americans paying money for a streaming service like Pandora, Spotify, Google Play or SiriusXM. That’s four times as many customers as there were in 2011.

“The music business continues to undergo a staggering transformation,” said RIAA CEO Cary Sherman in a statement. “Record companies are now digital music firms, earning more than two-thirds of their revenues from a variety of digital formats.”

Streaming music services now comprise more than one-quarter of all music revenue, growing to $1.87 billion in 2014 — a 30 percent increase from 2013. In that time, CDs sputtered to $1.85 billion while vinyl sales surged 50 percent to around $300 million.

Digital downloads, which surpassed CDs in 2011, remain the largest source of revenue for the music industry. Downloads make up 37 percent of about $7 billion in total music sales.

U.S. music sales peaked at $14.6 billion in 1999 — about $20 billion in today’s money. That’s the year Napster changed the game by allowing users to download each other’s music.

Napster was shut down in 2001 by court order. That same year, Apple launched iTunes and the iPod.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter at @GavinStern.