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How Does Canada's Digital Music Market Really Stack Up?

Wednesday August 26, 2009

CRIA's Graham Henderson has posted an op-ed in the Georgia Straight in which he repeats many of his comments from an earlier copyright consultation roundtable. Henderson points to U.S. sales and new services Europe such as Spotify and Nokia's Comes With Music to support his claim is that Canada is falling far behind its counterparts in the digital music sales and services.  In Canada, he says the choice is just between iTunes and illegal (it is rather amazing to see the person who launched Puretracks now ignore it).

Yet Henderson's claims simply don't stand up to scrutiny.  First, digital music sales as a percentage of total sales in Canada is ahead of every major European country. While the U.S. is indeed ahead of Canada, the IFPI reports that Canada is ahead of France, Britain, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Russia.  Canada also leads countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa (percentage of digital sales are highest in countries where physical sales are virtually non-existent such as Indonesia and China). In fact, of the top 20 global markets for recorded music, the IFPI says that Canada ranks 5th for the percentage of digital sales.  Overall, Canada's digital market stands 7th worldwide, while ranking 6th for all recorded music - in other words, about what you would expect. Not exactly the laggard that CRIA claims.

Second, Canada trails the U.S. in the digital sales as a percentage of total sales, but digital music sales growth in Canada has outperformed the U.S. for the past three years according to Nielsen Soundscan data. Indeed, the IFPI notes that Canada's growth rate is ahead of the global average. In comparing with the U.S., Canada is starting from a lower base, but Apple iTunes launched much later in Canada and it has failed to seriously target French language music sales (effectively cutting out a chunk of the Canadian market).

Third, recent reports note that services like Spotify are promoted by the major labels who hold an ownership stake, but artists actually receive very little.  Moreover, Canada has been home to new services such as SpiralFrog, which launched in Canada before the U.S.

Fourth, Canada's private copying levy has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for personal, non-commercial copying that may include downloading.  Given that revenue, it should come as little surprise to find that many groups representing artists are focused on retaining or expanding the levy as their key issue, not the reforms promoted by CRIA.