2017 was another stellar year for Bandcamp, with double digit growth in every aspect of the business. Digital album sales were up 16%, tracks 33%, and merch 36%. Growth in physical sales was led by vinyl (up 54%), CDs (up 18%), and cassettes (up 41%). Revenue from the 3,500 independent labels on Bandcamp grew 73%, and more than 600,000 artists have now sold something through the site. Our publication, Bandcamp Daily, grew its audience by 84%, and all-time payments to artists through Bandcamp reached $270 million. We launched a new app for artists and labels, added gift cards, improved fan collections, held successful fundraisers for the ACLU and TLC, and we’ll soon mark six straight years as a profitable company that only makes money when artists make a lot more money.
Meanwhile, standalone music streaming companies continued to lose money in 2017, and industry-wide record sales continued to decline: in the U.S., digital album sales dropped 20%, tracks were down 23%, and physical sales fell 20%. The seemingly inevitable upshot of these two trends is that the majority of music consumption will eventually take place within the subscription rental services of two or three enormous corporations, who can afford to lose money on music because it attracts customers to the parts of their businesses that are profitable.
As we said last year, allowing the distribution of an entire art form to be controlled by so few has troubling implications, and those continued to play out in 2017. The streaming giants exert tremendous influence over what music gets heard, and must primarily serve their most important supplier, the major labels. The result is that independent labels, and especially independent artists, are far less likely to be discovered on those platforms. 99% of all streaming is of the top 10% most-streamed tracks, and given the majors’ control over the music that is promoted on streaming services (documented in the must-read piece “The Secret Lives of Playlists”), listening hours are likely to become even more concentrated at the top.
Per stream rates also continued their decline in 2017, dropping another 9%, which is the opposite of the this-will-all-work-out-when-we’re-big-enough dream once sold by music rental companies. This trend feels unstoppable given the effect of decreased competition on artists’ ability to set fair rates, but a ray of hope seemed to emerge two weeks ago when the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board ruled to increase songwriter streaming rates by 48% over the next five years. However, that’s an impediment to profitability that can easily be resolved by eliminating musicians altogether.*
In the midst of all this, NPR Music’s Andrew Flanagan wrote:
“Bandcamp serves as an honest-to-goodness, proof-in-the-pudding bulwark against the creep of artistic monoculture fueled by the consolidation of digital life into the hands of a few companies. Maybe the future isn’t a dumpster fire after all.”
This made us laugh of course, but it also accurately captured what drives us to keep building and growing Bandcamp after all these years (we’ll celebrate our 10th anniversary this September, more on that to come). We want a music platform to exist where the playing field is level, where artists are compensated fairly and transparently, and where fans can both stream and own their music collections. The fact that this simple concept continues to resonate with so many talented artists and hard core fans inspires us every single day, and in 2018 we’ll be working hard to bring it to an even bigger audience. Thank you for another great year!