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Digital and streams account for ever more revenue in indie sector, according to Merlin

By | Published on Friday 26 June 2015


Hot on the heals of the Swift Intervention, as historians are already not calling it, and ahead of the big launch of Apple Music next week, indie labels digital rights group Merlin has published the results of its annual membership survey.

Unsurprisingly, given both industry-wide figures and past Merlin surveys, the key trend of the last year is the continued shift from physical to digital. And while it’s interesting to know that more than half of the responding indie labels are now making more from digital than physical overall – the industry at large having also passed that tipping point in 2014 – the more significant stat is that for a third of the labels, digital now accounts for over 75% of business.

The shift from physical to digital has generally happened faster in the indie sector than with the majors – something Merlin boss Charles Caldas discussed with CMU last year – and likewise the move from downloads to streams is also happening more rapidly with the independents. In the new Merlin study one in three labels said that streaming now accounts for over half their digital income, up from one in five in the last survey.

Despite many in the indie sector operating on tight margins, illustrated by their concern over Apple’s original proposal of a royalty free summer as it moves into streams, the majority of Merlin member labels reported overall growth in the last year, with only 16% saying revenues were down. That growth was very much linked to booming streaming income, downloads having generally peaked across the board.

Caldas has always been very vocal on the fact that indie labels often score higher in terms of market share when it comes to digital over physical, and streams over downloads. Though an interesting trend noted in the latest survey is that usage of Merlin label content was 35% higher on paid for rather than free tiers, suggesting indie label music is particularly popular amongst the all important paying premium users.

Commenting on his organisation’s latest round of stats, Caldas said yesterday: “The Merlin membership survey again shows how strongly the world’s leading independent labels are faring in the global digital market. This year’s results highlight the speed at which music fans are transitioning towards streaming and subscription services, and how independent labels are leading that change, and growing their audience in the process – with the vast majority growing their digital revenues and expanding their business overall”.