Universal Music Group Dominating Digital Sales


Universal Music Group, the biggest of the world’s four major music companies, made the most money percentage- and dollar-wise from digital sales in 2008, according to the most recent earnings from each.

But now that the biggest online music retailer, iTunes, is raising prices for popular tracks to $1.29, Universal could be particularly vulnerable if consumers reject iTunes’ higher prices and seek out cheaper music. After all, as of Saturday night, 37 of the 100 most-downloaded songs on iTunes were from UMG artists. Then again, it’s possible that Warner Music and EMI, whose digital sales increased noticeably last year from the year before, could see their growing online revenues flatten. As the smaller players, that would have more of an impact on their bottom lines.

On the eve of iTunes’ risky price hike, set to begin April 7, and the next round of quarterly earnings announcements, we’ve sized up how much the major labels made from digital sales in 2008*:

Universal Music Group (home to Lil’ Wayne, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and U2):

Recorded-music revenues: $5.5 billion

Digital sales: $1.2 billion, or 22% of recorded-music sales, up 30.5% from 2007

Warner Music Group (home to Flo Rida, Death Cab for Cutie, Metallica, T.I. and Jason Mraz):

Recorded-music revenues: $2.9 billion

Digital sales: $599 million, or 21% of recorded-music sales, up 38% from 2007

EMI (home to Coldplay, Katy Perry, Lily Allen and Keith Urban):

Recorded-music revenues (for the six months ending 9/30/08**): $876 million

Digital sales (for the six months ending 9/30/08**): $185 million, or 21% of recorded-music sales, up 38% from the same six-month period in 2007

*Sony Music Entertainment’s 2008 digital-sales data is not yet available. Sony’s fiscal year ends on Tuesday, and judging by last year’s earnings schedule, we won’t find out how much money the conglomerate made until May. Sony also doesn’t break out digital-music revenue on a quarterly basis. Sony Music’s artists include Beyonce, Britney Spears, The Fray, Kelly Clarkson and Kings of Leon.

**Privately-held EMI released a report covering the six month period ending September 30, 2008 in late January. Who knows if or when owner Terra Firma will let us know how much EMI made for the year ending March 31, 2009?

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