Billboard Magazine recently posted the Nielsen Soundscan year-end 2013 music sales numbers, and while they may not correspond exactly with the upcoming figures from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) or IFPI (International Federation of the Phonograph Industry), I don’t think they’re far off the mark. I’m sure music execs everywhere are looking at the stats and wringing their hands, and in some ways, they should be, because it’s the first year since iTunes was introduced that digital music has suffered a decline.
In what should be a huge red flag for the industry, 2013 digital track sales fell 5.7% from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion. Soundscan hasn’t yet released their streaming numbers for the year, but it should be clear to everyone that streaming is the reason for the downturn. In fact, it’s been widely noted that the digital download sales decline has been offset by the rise in streaming income, which we should see quantified when the numbers are made available.
Perhaps a larger problem is that the album, the cash cow of the industry (although less so than ever), has seen its sales decline for yet another year. Album sales for 2014 dipped to 289.4 million units, an 8.4% reduction from the prior year, although digital album sales fell a nominal 0.1% to 117.6 units from the previous year’s 117.7 million.
We’re in the era of the single song sale, as albums mean less and less to today’s consumers. It’s a different time where the attention span is much shorter, multitasking abounds, and there are more media choices than ever, which is less than ideal conditions for a medium that requires a long time commitment. Albums won’t die, but hopefully they’ll be altered for the times, with fewer songs and less running time. That’s not going to bring the format back to prominence, but it might slow its decline. This is one time where quality trumps quantity for sure. Read more on Forbes.
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