Album sales sink to historic low, but people are listening to more music than ever [Report]
2016 is the worst year in recent history for sales of recorded music — that’s according to Nielsen SoundScan, which first began recording sales in 1991. Album sales, including track-equivalent albums (which equate 10 track sales to the sale of 1 album unit), are down 16.9 percent in the first six months of this year. With the advent of on-demand streaming and audio platform services, however, sales figures are no longer the main number to watch in gauging the health of the music industry.
New album sales saw the biggest dip of all sectors: a 20.2 percent decrease overall to 44.1 million units. Album unit sales fell 13.6 percent to 100.3 million sales thus far. The almost-archaic compact disc sale continued its steep descent, dropping 11.6 percent to 50 million sales. Digital album sales are down about five percent, falling from 53.7 million to 43.8 million.
Track sales contracted as well; songs released in the past 18 months experienced a staggering 40 percent drop. Vinyl sales, as previously reported, grew 11.4 percent to 6.2 million — it should be noted, however, that the relatively smaller number of sales increases disproportionately. The most popular destination for purchasing albums and tracks is digital retailers like iTunes, who cornered 43.7 percent of the album market (even as overall sales declined 18.4 percent to 43.8 million album units). Interestingly, “non-traditional” CD retailers like Amazon, supermarkets, and retailers like Urban Outfitters experienced an 8.3 growth in album sales.
Streams, unsurprisingly, have seen an uptick — listeners streamed 208.9 billion songs between January and July 6, equating to a 58.6 percent jump. Streaming platforms notably beat out YouTube for the first time in history in this half. This piece of the revenue equation is worth celebrating. Billboard estimates U.S. revenue from recorded music at $1.98 billion so far this year, as compared to $1.82 billion a year ago — an 8.9 percent increase. The streaming rate used — $0.0063 generated in revenue per stream — has been criticized by some indie labels, but with ongoing negotiations with labels and pressure from artists, the rate is more likely to rise than remain level in the coming months.
Precipitous declines recorded in nearly every sector may not appear to paint a rosy picture for the current state of the recorded music industry, but so far, total album consumption in 2016 (which includes track-equivalent albums, streaming-equivalent albums, and overall album units) totaled 279.9 million units — up 8.9 percent from last year. Streaming (so far) appears to be the pivot player needed in the recently-gloomy forecasts of the future of music.