The Death of Album Sales, Is It Time to Let It Go?


Written by Mary Woodcock

21 October 2014

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The music industry has always been constantly shifting and changing. We have seen the rise and fall of many mediums, such as the vinyl record, CD and tape. New platforms and ways of listening keep on being invented, which leads to the death of whatever is in use at the time. In 2014 it seems like we are about to witness the demise of the album, as no artist has gone platinum and sold more than a million albums in the US. 

The only album that has managed to sell over a million copies this year is a soundtrack. The Frozen soundtrack. That’s right, the soundtrack for a Disney film from last year is the highest selling album in 2014, with 3.2 million copies. In fact, album sales are so poor that the second and third best selling albums are Beyonce’s self titled album and Lorde’s Pure Heroine, both of which were released in 2013. Following these two albums are country star Eric Church’s album Outsiders and Coldplay’s Ghost Stories. The top five best selling albums this year are a soundtrack for a kid’s film, two albums from last year, a country singer and Coldplay.

Making sense of the numbers

What does this tell us about the music industry? It may tell us that we are all broke and the government needs to sort out the economy. Or it could tell us that listeners are not purchasing albums because they are getting their music by other means. 60 singles have sold more than one million copies, which is a lot better than one album selling a million. This shows that people still buy singles, however last year 83 singles sold more than a million copies, so even single sales are falling. 

Ironically, vinyl sales are rising and might pass the million mark by the end of the year, bringing about the best sales in almost 20 years. The last time more than a million vinyls were sold was in 1996! This year 112 releases have sold more than one thousand copies, while last year only 50 did so. However only one of the top ten vinyl album releases this year was released for the first time this year, Royal Blood’s self titled debut album. This trend probably came about because music enthusiasts want a physical copy of an album with high quality sound and original artwork in a time of digital downloads.

 Although people are buying less music, it does not mean they are listening to music less. Instead they are switching to music streaming. In the first nine months of 2014 10.2 billion songs were streamed online, almost double the amount of 5.4 billion songs streamed in the first nine months of 2013. The interest in online streaming is surging, and it is being recognized by organizations such as the UK’s Official Chart Company, who have started using streams in their calculations for the UK’s official single’s chart. 

What does the future hold? 

It seems as though the future of music is in streaming. Spotify is leading the charge as they are now finally making a profit, as covered in my previous article here. Their biggest threat comes from Apple, and their recently purchased Beats Music. As iTunes once made record stores obsolete, online streaming is slowly making iTunes a thing of the past, so Apple had to adapt to current trends and provide a streaming service of their own. Or buy one. 

What does this mean for artists? It means that they will have to do something different to make money, now that album sales are at an all time low. Instead of whole albums, maybe smaller EPs are the way forward, or just a constant release of singles. Since streaming places more focus on individual songs that listeners can stream on its own instead of a whole album, smaller releases could be better, as listeners nowadays might not listen to entire albums anymore. Taking the time to listen through three or four songs is quicker than a ten or twelve track album. Artists can still release the same amount of songs a year, just in smaller and more spaced out intervals to keep listeners interested. If artists only care about money and not their credibility they can make sure they get on the soundtrack for the next big Disney film, for a guaranteed profit. They can also latch on to the recent interest in vinyl, maybe release on vinyl instead of CDs. Artists will now have to get as creative with their distribution as they are with their music nowadays. They do not necessarily have to stop releasing albums, but be more innovative to guarantee success. We are now in a brave new world of music and we need to be the pioneers of change to survive. 


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