In a sign that the major labels are finally beginning to embrace digital music worldwide, U.K.-based digital music provider 7digital announced a pan-European licensing agreement with Warner Music to sell their MP3s, nearly completing the map of Europe. This month, France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands will join the U.K., Ireland, Spain, Germany, and Austria, and additional countries will be rolled out over the coming months. The agreement includes 7digital’s various partnerships, including Last.fm, Spotify, and open-source player Songbird.
Digital album sales have been on the rise over the past few years, growing by 25% to $3.7 billion in 2008, according to a report by IFPI. Digital music now accounts for 20% of recorded music sales, up from 15% in 2007. Even so, more than 95% of music downloads—or more than 40 billion tracks—are downloaded illegally. More than 1.4 billion single tracks were legally downloaded globally, obviously a small percentage of all the digital music downloaded in 08.
So what can the industry do? Though it is somewhat stable, for now—overall music sales were up 10.5% in 2008—17 million fewer Americans purchased CDs last year (mostly teenagers and people over 50), while only 8 million more bought digital albums. Meanwhile, music streaming is finally going mainstream, with Pandora doubling its Internet presence to 18% of Web users in 2008 and other services on the rise as well.
7digital’s Euro-blanket deal with Warner Music is certainly a step in the right direction. Though digital music was initially born free, an effort to make it more widely available at least shows an embracing of the digital times—and a slow releasing of physical music. Hopefully other members of the Big Four (Sony, EMI, and Universal all have deals with 7digital, though not all are pan-European) will follow suit.