Written by Music

US Album Sales Fall

I’m really not sure what to make of the news that US album sales fell by 9.5% in 2007, and down 15% on 2006. Digital sales increased by a whopping 45% but only 10% of them are albums. Basically, as we know, most people only buy the tracks they want and not the whole album. This is the problem that record companies need to address as some artists now begin to only release singles.
We all know that once upon a time, single sales were all important and money-making devices. Then they became loss-leaders for albums (as marketing and video costs increased). Finally we’re now at the point where albums are just devices to sell concert tickets and merchandise.
But what explains the malaise? Well obviously a generation is now being brought on “tracks” rather than “albums.” But I’d also suspect that in the US they may have some other issues.
The top three albums of last year were Noel by someone called Josh Groban who I’d not even heard of. It’s a Christmas album. Second is the soundtrack to the Disney TV movie High School Musical, while third is the comeback album from The Eagles which was available exclusively in Walmart in the US.
Now compare that with the UK’s best-selling albums. At the top is troubled yet talented singer Amy Winehouse. Back to Black has sold 1.65m copies to date (including a “deluxe” version) compared with Noel’s 3.7m copies. That’s actually not that bad considering that the UK’s population is around 20% of that of the US.
Second in the UK was Leona Lewis, last year’s X-Factor winner, who sold a massive 1.27m albums in five weeks (and there were a few more shopping days until Christmas when these figures were compiled, with Lewis a likely stocking-filler album). Compare this with High School Musical’s 2.9m. Both are arguably TV spin-offs, although the musical value of the UK title is probably a bit stronger than the US one. 13 year-olds may argue that point.
A slight word of warning – I may well be comparing physical US CD album sales with UK figures that include full album downloads as well as CDs. But I think the comparison is still worth making.
The BPI hasn’t reported overall 2007 album sales as far as I’m aware, so it’ll be interesting to learn what the overall decline (if it is a decline) is compared to the US. Interestingly downloads have shown a 50% increase in the UK compared to 45% in the US, but 95% of album sales remain on CDs (which explains why Radiohead still went ahead and released a physical edition of their new album last week).
I think the problem in the US is perhaps more to do with the quality of music, the lack of decent radio stations (who are ridiculously stymied from broadcasting online), and overall malaise in quality not especially helped by an endless procession of TV talent shows. I dont’ really think filesharing is the big problem. I had a cassette to cassette recorder in the eighties, and CD burning has been around for ages. So copying your friends album has never been a problem. It’s more likely to be simply spending cash on other non-musical purchases – especially DVDs and video games.