An Ode to the Digital Download, and Its Impending Death
Lead illustration by Dan Evans


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An Ode to the Digital Download, and Its Impending Death

What happens when the future dies before it’s happened?

(Lead illustration by Dan Evans)

Forever death seemed distant. The blurred, black outline of a distant shark as I held my breath in the clear blue sea. It was a shape I recognised but only through stories and pictures in battered books. Death was someone I knew of, but not to speak to. Now, suddenly, my friends, they are dying – some before I even knew them. In an instant I am old. Now I learn that the outline I saw was misdirection, nothing but a speck on my vision. Now I learn that the shark, the real shark, was behind me all along.


Now I learn that the digital download is probably going to die soon.

If you thought 2016 was bad for high profile deaths then you really haven't seen anything yet. If progress marches on at its unceasing current rate – which it will, it always does – then 2017 could be the year of a mighty, and mightily unexpected, fall. Brace yourselves to bid farewell to the digital download as a paid proposition (the illegal digital download still soldiers on, in its lesser but still powerful form). Just over a decade since Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" secured its eternal position on pub quiz answer-sheets by becoming the first song ever to top the UK charts on downloads alone, the format looks set to be eclipsed entirely by the unstoppable dominance of streaming services.

In 2015, Warner Music announced that they had made more revenue that year from streaming than they had from downloads – becoming the first major music label to hit that milestone. And the trend continued last year, with a Billboard report revealing that The Chainsmokers' "Closer" was the number one with the fewest downloads since 2006. As music analyst Mark Mulligan points out in an interview for the Guardian, "Last year downloads declined by 16% in nominal terms. This year they are tracking to decline by between 25% and 30%."

In even worse news for the little old digital download, Apple have already hinted that the re-imagined version of iTunes will prioritise Apple Music over the download store, because who the hell is still spending time in the download store? It is no doubt a matter of time before they only offer Apple Music, and by extension, downloading music (legal or otherwise) slips from consumer minds and common habit.

We've still got the memories. For most born between 1988-2000, the digital download has played a supporting role in many formative moments. Uploading Jack Johnson albums onto an MP3 player the size of a bar of soap, just so girls would share your headphones on the bus home. Trying to download Metallica albums from Limewire, only to get a dodgy impression of Bill Clinton croaking "my fellow Americans," in return. Receiving iTunes vouchers for Christmas, spending them instantly and feeling a limp disappointment as though you were never given anything at all. Scenes I'm sure we're all familiar with, as the format that was never really there in the first place soundtracked our comings and goings.

Read the rest over at Noisey.