Has streaming really brought the good times back to Sweden’s recorded-music sector?

Earlier this week Sweden’s local music trade association Grammofonleverantorernas Forening (GLF) proudly reported that total trade revenues from recorded-music sales increased 5.1% last year, to SEK991.2 million (US$152.2 million), from SEK943.6 million in 2012. The rate of growth was lower than the 13.8% year-on-year increase in 2012, but higher than the 0.5% upswing in 2011. Streaming was the big winner, with record company earnings from services such as Spotify and WiMP rising to SEK705.9 million, from SEK541.6 million in 2012. Based on the latest GLF figures, streaming accounted for slightly more than 71% of total trade revenues in 2013, up from 57.4% in 2012 and just 1.5% in 2008.

Sweden sales 2000-2013

In a statement, the GLF CEO Ludvig Werner said three straight years of growth had pushed trade revenues to their highest level since 2004. However, he cautioned that record company earnings are still just 60% of the peak year of 2000.

With all the headlines about Sweden’s streaming boom, it is easy to forget how big the Swedish recorded-music market once was and how far it has fallen. Moreover, there are plenty of questions over how high streaming sales can actually go, particularly given the slowdown in the growth rate of streaming earnings (30.3% in 2013, down from 55.4% in 2012).

In just six years, sales of CDs in Sweden have more than halved, yet there is little published evidence detailing whether those CD buyers have switched to digital or are simply buying less recorded-music. In the early years of digital, falling trade revenues were a clear indicator that consumers were either switching to unauthorized services, or abandoning the recorded-music industry altogether. Download sales have never really taken hold in Sweden and so the big unknown is whether music subscription services have attracted consumers that stopped buying recorded-music, or whether the services are simply causing a redistribution of trade revenues from CDs and downloads.

Rising earnings suggests the growth has come from more than simple cannibalization, but it would be easy to gloss over the possibility that fewer Swedes are spending money on recorded-music, and that those consumers that are spending, are spending more. If that is the case then there will be a limit on how big the streaming boom will take Sweden’s recorded-music sector. No one is expecting streaming sales to keep on rising, but if streaming can’t return record company earnings to 2000 levels, then what can?

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