Americans tuning out recorded music

Interesting stat:   The average amount of time that Americans spend listening to recorded music annually has dropped significantly over the past 7 years:


Graphic courtesy of Yahoo, USA Today

From 290 hours per year, down to 195. That’s a 32.7% decrease over less than 7 years.

Why? Between surfing the net, playing video games, or watching DVDs, people now spend about one third less of their time just listening to music. Interestingly, those other activities have some degree of music in them: Video Games are a big user of music as are Film Soundtracks and Concert DVDs. The 10 hours or more per week I listen to Streaming Radio simply was not an option pre-broadband.

Gee, I wonder if that significant decrease in recorded music consumption — concurrent to the explosive rise in Gaming and DVD sales —  might have anything to do with the CD sales slow down?

Let’s drill into the details, via the US Census Bureau Report:

Number of hours Americans spent using various types of media in 1998
and 2003

Activity Hours, 1998 Hours, 2003 (proj.) Change (hours)
TV 1551 1656 +105
Radio 936 1014 +78
Box office 13 13 0
Home video 36 96 +60
Interactive TV 0 3 +3
Recorded music 283 219 -64
Video games 43 90 +47
Consumer Internet 54 174 +120
Daily newspapers 185 173 -12
Consumer books 120 106 -14
Consumer magazines 125 116 -9
Total 3347 3661 +314

(Source: US Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, p. 720.)


The table above, covering the five year period 1998-2003, comes from by Alex Halderman and Ed Felten of "Freedom to Tinker:"

The music industry likes to complain about sales lost to piracy, but
figures that show huge sales declines only tell part of the story.
Before we blame this trend on infringement, we have to make several
assumptions, including that the demand for music (whether purchased or
pirated) has remained steady.

Figures available from the US Census bureau suggest otherwise. Data on
"Media Usage and Consumer Spending" abstracted from a study by Veronis
Suhler Stevenson show the average number of hours spent listening to
music by US residents age 12 and older has declined steadily since 1998
(from 283 to a projected 219 in 2003, a 21% decline). Meanwhile, home
video, video games, and consumer Internet have seen dramatic gains.
This suggests that people are turning to new forms of entertainment
(i.e., the Internet, video games, and DVDs) at the expense of recorded




UPDATE March 29, 2005 10:41am

Rojisan has also been disussing active versus passive music "consumption" (2004), and previously discussed "the attention market." Worth checking out.

USA Today
Sun, Mar 27, 2005

Recorded Music Being Replaced by Other Media
Alex Halderman and Ed Felten
Freedom to Tinker September 30, 2004

US Census
Statistical Abstract of the United States/Shannon Reilly and Gia Kereselidze

Section 26. Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
2001 1230-1262
2002 1208-1243
2003 1230-1264
2004-05 1224-1261

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. meta-roj blog commented on Mar 29

    updating the media attention market

    over at the big picture, barry’s done some new work on something i spent a lot of time on here long ago. so, if you want the new numbers on where people are spending their time, don’t look here, look…

  2. Strategy Kinetics commented on Mar 29

    Music Listening Declining Says Barry Ritholtz

    Coincidentally with The Future of Music week here, economist and music fan Barry Ritholtz documents on his Big Picture blog a decline in the number of hours per person spent listening to music. Check it out.

  3. anne commented on Mar 29

    Were you wandering campus or just sitting in a library, I think you would find every other person listening to music in some manner or other. So, it has increasingly appeared to me. Though I do not care for headphones I am generally near a Bose radio, for we have several fine classical music stations. Then there is always music when I work.

  4. anne commented on Mar 29

    My birds listen to classical music through the day and evening, by the way :)

  5. Karmakin commented on Mar 29

    Ugh. I don’t like that article from Rojisan. Not one bit. It seems to be completly missing how people listen to music.

    #1. Setting up your iPod:Active. Actually listening to your iPod:Usually passive.

    #2. People don’t want to have to work to discover new music? What the hell does he think the Grokster case is about in the first place? People were willing to be an active participant in the discovery of new music. And that’s the reason why it needs to be shut down. The dangers of the next big act sidestepping the traditional promotional channel is too great. It’s going to happen.

    #3. Look how Internet usage has gone up. I suspect that passive music listening has gone way up with that as well. Most of the time I’m surfing I have my Winamp set to my playlist.

    And yeah, video games have taken a huge chunk out of the pie. In my estimation, I suspect that video game soundtracks, which are EXTREMLY hard to find outside of the big cities, especially for credit-less people (no Amazon), account for a signifigant % of P2P material.

    If they actually studied it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the most widly traded music overall is the music of Nobuo Uematsu. Do a search for Final Fantasy Soundtrack on any P2P app and see how many hits you get. A lot.

  6. anne commented on Mar 29

    Then I have classical music on at home almost always and in the office almost always, and it is because I care to hear birds about that I will never use headphones outside. Driving? Sure. A walk about part of the campus however shows headphones everywhere. Library again? Same.

  7. roj commented on Mar 29

    I’m going to stick with my original material… but a few questions have come up, so let me touch them briefly… I may have missed how YOU listen to music, but I think you’re out on the tail of this curve, as it were.

    #1 – I’m not sure I understand the point about “Setting up your iPod:Active. Actually listening to your iPod:Usually passive.” This is from the active vs. passive post, “these aren’t mutually exclusive, in fact most media experiences are a combination of the two. what is interesting and relevant, is the ratio of active to passive participation for a given experience or a given individual.” The fact that you have an iPod probably tells us something about your individual active/passive habits, but in the Big Picture (ahem), Apple announced the 10 millionth iPod sale in January. I’m not saying 10 million iPods is irrelevant (in fact, it’s amazing), but that’s 10 million (actually, less, that’s worldwide iPods) out of 295 million (or so) Americans (and we’re using Americans because of the source data). For most people, most of the iPod time is passive.

    #2 – Yes. People are unfocused, uneducated and fundamentally lazy, particularly when it comes to media – and this is probably because there are so many options available. Why would I spend time listening to crap when I have so many alternatives? (Because I’m a musigeek, and listening to crap is part of that deal). Ok, so why would you listen to crap when you can figure out that I’ve already listened to that crap and called it crap? I’m convinced that most people wouldn’t.

    You can find the phenomenon out on the web with the sites that are built around creating, refining and exchanging playlists. With 10 million out there, iPod is a viable target platform for the DJ and musigeek now. That’s let ME do the active part for YOU – and this is a very important thing, because I don’t think people are actually willing to work their way through all the songs in the iTunes to find the ones they like. If you can make a yes/no decision on each of 1 million songs in just 10 seconds, that’s a 24/7 commitment for more than 3 months just to load up your iPod. Assuming you want to fill that puppy up, it’s also $5000 (original iPod Apple marketing literature) in cold, hard credit. 3 months and $5000 is a pretty serious commitment. I imagine there is someone out there that’s done it, but there are people who live in caves, too – it evens out.

    Anything you do to make your media easier to pour into the public’s brain is a step in the big-hit direction. Anything you do to make it more difficult is a step in the “niche market” direction. To drag in a non-music example, consider market penetration for a foreign-language film with subtitles vs. a foreign-language film that’s dubbed.

    The “shuffle idea” is basically removing another “active” component from the listening experience. The listener doesn’t have to set up playlists and order songs, just have the machine dump stuff you like into your ears – and not even a lot of stuff – just 512M or 1G, which, oddly enough, is a little more or a little less than a CD. Shuffle works, probably largely because it’s a) cheap and b) easy.

    I don’t think Grokster is about being “an active participant in the discovery of new music.” These tools aggregate very tiny, individual bits of attention to create a filter, but the bigger point is that the individual contributions to the filtering process are relatively small for most people (emphasize that last bit). It’s also not a very good filter, but I don’t want to get into that issue – suffice to say it’s a lot better than nothing.

    Again, Grokster is a tiny part of the attention market. It’s a very important part (a point I tried to make in the original posts), but most people are not Grokster-enabled. “Although Grokster President Daniel Rung said the actual number of Grokster users is not known, more than 8 million copies of the program have been installed on computers around the world since it was introduced four years ago.” ( – November 2004 )

    #3 – I can’t address this, since we’re using Census Bureau data without a methodology. For the sake of argument, I’m just taking the numbers as they are presented. Sure, some people get to spend more than 9 hours a day with media, but some people don’t even own a TV.

  8. Karmakin commented on Mar 30

    *blink* 512 MB is a little less than a CD? Maybe if you’re putting FLAC files or the like..will the iPOD even support that? Wait. Apple does have a lossless CODEC, and you did say you’re a musicgeek. But most pepole will stick with MP3, and a good rule of thumb is roughly one minute per MB. It’s about 5-6 CDs for most people.

    In any case, my idea of passive listening is background. Listening when I’m surfing the internet, or driving and it’s on the radio, or something like that. Active listening is when the music is the #1 thing going on at that time. I’ll do that for a new album I really like maybe 2-3 times tops. As well, throw in live concerts as well. And actually I don’t have an iPod. For what I use it for it’s not worth the cost. I actually have a generic brand MP3-CD player, which works for me.

    Regarding #3, there has to be overlap. The modern life is constantly in a state of multitask. Every study I’ve done on this just asked you how many hours you spent doing each of the following. And that usually added up to more than the hours over the timeframe.

    Back to #2, I think the problem is that you’re missing how Grokster, but to take it back a step, how Napster was used in the wild. I never used Napster. I think I might have downloaded like 5 songs on it? (I was much more into live trading back then, so most of my music came from IRC…and in SHN format to boot). However, I have friends and family who did use it a lot. And how was it used? You’d do a search for the music you liked. Then you’d find someone who had a large chunk of it, and you’d view their upload list, download something, see if you liked it. If you did, you’d surf THAT search term for other things, and so on. It really was the community effect that made it hum.

    I know at least from watching friends, that Soulseek mainly works on the same idea. That you’re downloading from actual other users and not just the anonymous ether. It’s community in action. And if you ask me, that’s the real force at play here. Just like either “High-Tech” or “Internet” was the buzz-word for the 90’s, “Community” is going to be the buzz-word for the ’00s.

  9. roj commented on Mar 30

    Checking the shelf here, the CDs I have say “700M.” I’ve been out of school for a while, but I think 512M is still less than 700M. I should’ve included some statements about formats and bitrates and what is “good enough” for a given listening environment, and how you might get music into one format or another and where you might store it once it’s in that format and how that storage might include a 12cm polycarbonate disc or a couple chips tucked away in an iPod. That’s my fault.

    It seems pretty obvious we’re using different fundamental definitions. My idea of “passive” listening is in the material I wrote so long ago.

    As to following breadcrumbs around music-sharing environments, it’s still undirected, unfocused and laborious – and I still don’t think most of the media-“consuming” public wants to spend that much effort chasing little bits of music.

  10. seamus commented on Mar 30

    Roj, most people listen to digital audio via MP3s, and ripping an MP3 at a decent bit rate will come to about 1MB per minute. So an average 50-minute CD will come to about 50MB, and 1GB is about 20 CDs, or about 250 four-minute tracks.

    I also think shuffle works because it’s cool. People are accustomed to two models for music listening — the radio station and the CD. Shuffle permits a combo of the both — it’s each person’s favorite radio station.

    To Barry’s original point, the recording industry has used file-sharing as a bullshit excuse for their failing sales. While P2P might have been a small contributor to lower sales among some of the big pop artists, especially those with teen appeal, I tend to believe (and that chart seems to indicate) that people are just listening to fewer CDs as they spend their time with other media.

  11. 3martini commented on Mar 30

    MP3s, P2P, the Supreme Court, and Utter Bullshit

    The Supreme Court smells the recording industry’s B.S. Who couldn’t?

  12. Nätverkssamhället commented on Mar 31

    Inte så enkelt som skivbranschen..

    … vill få oss att tro. Det visar sig att det inte är svart och vitt och det bara är fildelarnas fel att skivförsäljningen minskar: DN – Kultur – “Nedladdning stör inte försäljningen” [via: k-märkt] – Vi s…

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