There's reason to be optimistic about the market for recorded music around the world, according to a new report released by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. For the first time since 1999, the report says, the global trade value for the recorded music industry (a slightly vague/confusing term for record sales) went up last year by about 0.3 percent.
That's not a huge margin, but the IFPI's outlook is relentlessly sunny — which is why you may have seen the stat batted around the Internet today. Despite the lobbying group's name, it produces an annual Digital Music Report that focuses almost exclusively on non-physical forms of media like downloads and streaming services.
How big a deal is that 0.3 percent growth? It's hard to say. IFPI doesn't reveal how it collects its data (or how it arrives at that number — we don't know if it counts album sales, singles, or just cash). But here's a statistic published by a different organization: In 2011, following 10 years of declining album sales, sales in the United States climbed 1.3 percent, according to a year-end report by Nielsen SoundScan and Billboard magazine. But last year album sales in the U.S. dropped by more than 4 percent.
IFPI represents the recording industry and counts as its members all the major record labels, including their international arms. Its most recent report includes many stories of success — from the worldwide sales of singles by artists like Carly Rae Jepsen (Canada), Psy (South Korea) and Gotye (Australia via Belgium) featuring Kimbra (New Zealand), to India's courts blocking access to websites that allow illegal file sharing, to the growth of streaming services in countries like the Netherlands.
Where problems remain, IFPI sees potential: Many countries have not reached the limit of their digital consumers, the group says, and illegal downloading could be further diminished if search engines would rig search terms to direct users to legitimate sources.
For the time being, though, there's growth to point to. And that's better than the alternative.