As the streaming and download numbers indicate, music no longer needs MP3s or even sound files to stay mobile. As free wi-fi grows more widely available and 3G and 4G data plans pile on more data, streaming services become a more palatable option. The selections are more varied, the input and algorithms help neatly tailor playlists and the station and playlist formats don't require mixing things up manually before each trip. You don't own the songs and can't always get one you're dying to hear when you want to hear it, but all those years of skipping and scanning on various MP3 players weren't exactly a grand exercise in instant gratification, either.
The old library-and-playlist model is wearing out its welcome, and the music industry knows it. Beats Music is built on the idea of enveloping listeners in a mix of old favorites and new artists that fit their tastes. Apple, meanwhile, gave in and made streaming service iTunes Radio a reality. Billboard noted that downloaded digital track sales fell 12.9% in the fourth quarter of 2013 and dropped at a similar pace over the first three weeks of this year -- coinciding with the launch of both iTunes Radio and Beats Music.
People aren't opposed to owning music, but they don't want to buy it while they're streaming it. In some cases, they don't seem too keen on buying it in a digital format anymore, either. As was the case with CDs, there will still be people who continue to buy digital files for their collection and play them using the conventional methods of roughly a decade ago. However, there are going to be a whole bunch of music fans for whom -- with few exceptions -- the last big additions to their libraries are made in 2013 or 2014.
Their small crate of records may fill and their streaming stations may get more thumbs up and thumbs down, but sound files will become what the previous generation's CDs already are: Warmly remembered but seldom used failsafes from a fading era.
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-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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