MP3 player sales slump amidst smartphone boom

By | Published on Friday 28 December 2012


Proving that the MP3 Player – or ‘Portable Media Player’ as some prefer – was always a temporary phenomenon in the digital music domain, new research by Mintel shows that revenues generated by the sale of such devices in the UK fell 22% this year compared to last, to £381 million. And the research firm reckons that by 2017, sales of standalone digital music devices will be generating half that, and maybe as little as £25 million.

The reason PMPs are seeing as sharp a decline as they did growth just under a decade ago is, of course, because of the boom in smartphones, which double up as an MP3 players. Meaning iPhone maker Apple, for one, won’t be too bothered about the demise of the device that arguably brought about its renaissance ten years ago, the iPod. Says Mintel technology analyst Samuel Gee: “It is impossible to talk about the current PMP market without extensive reference to smartphones. Those devices have directly contributed to the sharp decline in the value of PMP sales”.

Of course for music companies, who in the main didn’t directly profit from the boom in sales of MP3 player devices, it makes no difference whether music is consumed on iPod or iPhone. Although the shift of digital music listening to smartphones has been one of the catalysts for the recent growth of subscription music services like Spotify, such services having never taken off in the MP3 player age (even though they were available, but not on the market-leading Apple devices, which made success for subscription platforms almost impossible at the time).

Gee continues: “The convenience of a smartphone is greater than an MP3 player because it is always with someone. It also provides more choice of mobile music because someone can play back their own music – as they can on a MP3 player – but they can also access other music services like Last FM or Spotify. Therefore there is a greater choice of music available”.

According to Business Insider, there are now over a billion smartphones in use around the world, a number that is likely to double in the next three years. In the UK this has also been the ‘tablet Christmas’, with massive sales of the iPad and similar devices arguably taking the tablet properly mainstream for the first time. Though tablets complement rather than replace smartphones, of course, so the growth of the iPad et al is unlikely to hinder the smartphone boom.

Whether the growth of tablet use provides new opportunities for the music industry beyond those already presented by smartphones is debatable, though for the media sector, hopes are high that tablet devices will enable the delivery of content in ways not possible before, and most importantly for newspaper and magazine publishers, in a digital format consumers may be persuaded to pay for.