Photo courtesy Spotify
Contrary to recent reports, Spotify is not in fact worth more than the U.S. music industry.
Following news earlier this month that Spotify has hauled in nearly $400 million in funding, its estimated current valuation has risen to about $8.4 billion. By contrast, recorded music's retail revenues dipped 0.5% last year to $6.97 billion.
It's an interesting observation as the mammoth streaming service continues to grow, but some publications turned those numbers ($8.4 billion vs. $6.97 billion) into a much more apocalyptic narrative: "Spotify Is Now Worth More Than the Entire U.S. Recording Industry." Except it's not quite true.
Valuation and revenue aren't the same thing. Spotify's $8.4 billion valuation is solely an estimate of what it might sell for today. Like when Pawn Stars gives a guy an unexpectedly high appraisal of his grandfather's beloved watch. The valuation for a company is much more complex than that of a watch, but it's still essentially an appraisal, because Spotify didn't actually bring in $8.4 billion in revenue last year.
In fact, Spotify's 2013 revenue (the last numbers available) was about $1.03 billion worldwide and it was expected to hit $1.3 billion last year. But even same-year revenue comparisons (Spotify's $1.3 billion versus the music industry's $6.97 billion) wouldn't be accurate, because it's global versus domestic.
This is all aside from the fact that in 2014 and now 2015, sales of recorded music are not truly a full representation of "the music industry" as a whole, which would include revenue from branded merchandise, festivals, corporate sponsorships, touring, etc.
Concert promoter and ticketing company Live Nation, for example, took in $5.23 billion in revenue just in the first nine months of 2014. And that's just one company within the music industry.
In terms of valuations, Universal Music Group was valued at $8.5 billion in a failed 2013 bid by SoftBank to buy the world's largest record company. Assuming that valuation didn't increase at all since then, $8.4 billion (Spotify) versus $8.5 billion (Universal) would be much more of an apples-to-apples comparison.
Unfortunately, "Spotify Might Be Worth More Than Universal Music Group" doesn't really make for the most glamorous, retweetable headline.