2009 music sales shed $1 billion, while US downloads stagnant

Global recorded music sales shrank by 7.2%, from $18.3bn to $17bn, through 2009 – meaning the industry has scored fewer sales each year since 1999.

Digital sales grew 9.2% and now make up over a quarter of all music income…

But the extra $363m brought in by digital last year still wasn’t enough to offset $1.74bn lost from physical sales, says the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s Recording Industry In Numbers report, marking wholesale trade value, not retail value.

Some details…

North America digital sales grew so slowly, they’re basically stagnant, the slowest in the world at just 1.1%. iTunes Store is now the US’ biggest music seller, with over a quarter of sales – so the industry must hope Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) innovation can provide it with another shot in the arm. iTunes Store boosted sales after its launch in 2003 – so maybe a subscription iTunes offering can do it again.

It’s not bad everywhere. UK music sales grew in 2009 on digital surge and a strong line-up, albeit by just 1.4%, and it’s now one of six countries (along with India, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico and Australia) to have hit the “tipping point” at which digital income is offsetting physical decline, IFPI says.

But the global picture is being dragged down by the US and Japan, its two biggest markets. They’re to blame for 80% of the sales loss. Ignoring these two countries, the global fall would have been only 3.2%.

So the industry is not getting off the piracy soapbox just yet. The IFPI says it remains “one of the biggest obstacles”. Chief executive John Kennedy: “Growth is within reach for the music business – it depends, above all, on how quickly governments can act to deal with piracy.” Labels are encouraged by new legislation enacted in the UK and France that would level education and sanctions against freeloaders – but these controversial measures haven’t yet been implemented and still face opposition.

The picture is more chronic in Spain, where P2P use is double the Europe-wide rate and the market is worth just 38% of its 2001 value. But Sweden, yet again, may be an exemplar – the IFPI hails a carrot-and-stick approach that saw ’09 music sales there grow 11.9% on subscription adoption after homegrown Spotify and after a new law compelling ISPs to identify freeloaders to copyright owners.

Having largely dropped stringent DRM for downloads, the industry is also now pinning hopes on uptake of unlimited-access subscription services like Spotify and Rhapsody, and on ISPs introducing bundled music packages.

This report does not cover income from music publishing or live music, which is growing.