Digital music outsells CDs for first time in Singapore

Gap widens due to big drop in popularity of physical albums

The HMV music store at 313@Somerset closed last year, a sign of the decreasing popularity of CDs and records. MYPAPER
The HMV music store at 313@Somerset closed last year, a sign of the decreasing popularity of CDs and records. MYPAPER FILE PHOTO

Digital music sales in Singapore overtook those of CDs and records last year for the first time.

But this was not because of a huge jump in the number of people downloading songs from iTunes. Rather, far fewer CDs had been sold.

Sales for digital music hit US$5.5 million (S$6.9 million) last year, up 28 per cent from 2012.

But sales of CDs and records dipped by 44 per cent in the same period to US$4.5 million, based on data from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

In 2009, sales of CDs and records were worth US$18.8 million and digital music sales were just US$3.4 million.

Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, IFPI's regional director for Asia, blamed the easy access to illegal content online for the drop in CD sales.

This could have been partly responsible for the closure of several brick-and-mortar music stores, such as Gramophone and HMV's 313@Somerset store, last year.

Online piracy might hurt the development of the music scene too.

Indie music label Rock Records' managing director Ngiam Kwang Hwa said: "If we cannot solve the piracy problem, labels will be more reluctant to sign new talent or train potential artistes, knowing it's an uphill battle for making a sound investment.

Mr Ang put the rise of digital music down to a recent explosion of music services, such as Apple's iTunes, as well as online music streaming services Deezer, Spotify and KKBOX.

An album with 12 songs on a CD can cost $20, but the digital version on iTunes goes for $12.

Music downloads also enjoyed the biggest annual growth for digital sales at 56 per cent to hit US$2.1 million last year. Music industry players said this could be due to the rise of iTunes, which was launched here in 2012.

This was followed by sales from advertisement-supported services, which grew by 38 per cent to reach US$770,000. Sales for subscription services had a modest 8 per cent increase and stood at US$1.5 million.

Industry experts said music streaming services probably contributed to the bulk of ad-supported and subscription sales.

Ms Yvonne See, director of ForeSee Consultancy, which does marketing for entertainment, fashion and music, credited the jump in download sales to the branding and pervasiveness of iTunes.

She said: "I believe most people are more receptive to known brands like iTunes and less receptive to things they don't understand or know."

Downloads could also be more popular than some streaming services because many consumers prefer to listen to their tunes offline, which can be hard with streaming, which needs an online connection, said an industry insider with 15 years of experience.

Another reason for iTunes' popularity is that it is easy to use for many consumers, such as undergraduate Vidhya Rajagopal.

"Once I pay for the music, I download it on my computer and share with my phone without hassle," said the 20-year-old.

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