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Music industry continues to die a slow, painful death

Filed in Music News 9 comments

The numbers for 2010 album sales are all over the internet today, and the news is pretty much what you would expect. The music industry continues to die a slow, painful death and there aren’t many signs that things will change in the years to come. Overall, the number of album sales in the United States fell 12.8% to 326.2 million units from 373.9 million units in the prior year, as the sales of CDs fell by nearly 20% for the fourth year in a row.

Digital music sales were up, but not quite enough to help balance the hit of those previous numbers. According to Billboard, growth in individual track sales continued to slow, barely managing to eke out a 1% increase, as sales reached 1.17 billion units, versus 1.16 billion in 2009. Digital albums sales were up 13% in 2010, growing to 86.3 million from the 76.4 million.

The vinyl format continues to grow however, up 14% again in 2010. A total of 2.8 million vinyl albums were sold, up from 2.5 in 2009 and 1.88 in 2008. Some more details about the rise of vinyl from Billboard.

The 10 top-selling vinyl artists and artists in 2010 were split 60/40 between indie acts and heritage acts. The top three selling vinyl albums were the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” (35,000 units sold), the Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” (18,800 units), and Black Keys “Brothers” (18,400 units). The top three selling vinyl artists were the Beatles (36,700 units), Black Keys (36,000 units), and Radiohead (30,500 units).

Before you get too excited about vinyl growth though, realize that in 2010 443.3 million albums were sold, and only 2.8 million of those were wax.

I bring this to your attention not because you didn’t already know people don’t buy music anymore, but rather to ask what’s next? Vinyl sales will continue to rise, but not enough to make them the dominant format or even a totally viable one for every artist to make their priority. Horrible sounding MP3’s will continue to be the preferred choice for non-collectors but how long before those numbers start to decline as well? The growth is not exactly encouraging.

UPDATE: In light of the announcement today from CES, subscription services like RDIO and MOG might be the future of music sales. While I am not sure how it is tracked by labels and bands, someone is getting paid (the labels) and this form of consumption is becoming more and more popular.

Posted by Joe Long   @   6 January 2011 9 comments


Jan 6, 2011
4:54 pm
#1 jw mitchell :

think national buy local :)

Jan 6, 2011
7:00 pm
#2 euro60 :

“Before you get too excited about vinyl growth though, realize that in 2010 443.3 million albums were sold, and only 2.8 million of those were wax.”

Joe, I am glad you pointed that out. Had to do the math just out of curiosity, and that comes to a grand total of 0.63% of all album sales, so it’s not like vinyl sales are gonna rescue an industry (that isn’t rescuable anymore anyway).

I’m thinking the long, slow death march will continue on for years and years. There are still too many avid CD buyers (like myself and many others visiting this blog) who will keep the CD and vinyl market going. I keep track of the CDs I buy, and it’s pretty much stabalized in recent years at about 70 to 80 a year, of which the vast majority were purchased at Shake It.

And looking at the raw numbers again, starting from this year’s total (443 million), how long would it take if every year the decline continues by 20 percent from the year before? It will be a LOOOOOOONG time before the number even falls under 100 million.

Separate from the music industry as a whole, much more interesting to me would be to hear how indie stores like Shake It and Everybody’s are doing. I had a discussion about the “long, slow death march” concept with one of the guys at Shake It (I think it was Jim) earlier in 2010, and he told me they were going gangbusters (at that time anyway), due to strong selling indie-albums like the new National (duh!) and Black Keys (duh again!).

Bottom line is that I am not so concerned about the complete disappearance of CDs as such, but I am far more concerned about the effect it may have on indie stores. I truly don’t know what I would do if Shake It were to close their doors.

Jan 6, 2011
7:02 pm
#3 euro60 :

Oops, correction, the correct number of CD sales is 326 million, not 443 million. Even with that as a starting number going forward, the death march will indeed be quite long, even with a 20% decline each year compared to the previous year.

Author Jan 7, 2011
10:24 am


Good thoughts. Numbers wise, I got the 443 from Billboard, but it encompasses combined U.S. sales of albums and track-equivalent albums (or TEA, where 10 tracks equals one album).

As for indie stores flourishing, well the Record Store Day stuff really really helps, and the rise of vinyl, though it be small, is a big deal for the Shake Its of the world.

Jan 11, 2011
12:32 pm
#5 jb :

It is pathetic how so called “music lovers” just steal all they can get and never consider buying an album. 10’s of 1000’s of songs, more than anyone could have wished for 15 years ago, and it’s not enough to say “hey, I like this group and they deserve my money.”

Jan 11, 2011
3:58 pm
#6 euro60 :

jb, my 21 yr old daughter knows more about indie/rock music these days than I do. I try to raise her “right”, constatnly taking her with me to the record store to buy CDs etc. Well guess what: she loves music, but she hasn’t bought a single CD in her life, and I can assure you she never will either. The reasons are many. First and foremost, she’s been brought up in an era in which everything, and I do mean everything, is available for free on the internet. At one point she got into the Beatles (this was 5-6 years ago) and next thing I know she’s got all the Beatles stuff she likes onto her iPod. I couldn’t believe it but I thought to myself: if even the Beatles stuff can be d/l for free, then literally everything can be d/l.

Another problem is that in her mind the musical experience comes from having the music playing on her computer or her iPod. Forget a “stereo”. Forget “cover art”. She sees no need to buy a CD because (i) the music is available on the internet for free, and (ii) what would you do with a CD other than burn it onto your iPod?

Mind you: I am not “defending” what she does. I’m simply trying to explain why she does what she does. I am “old school” of course, and even with everything available for free on the internet, I still want the CD for a number of reasons. But I am hugely sceptical that a lot of people under the age of 25 actually ever go out and buy a CD anymore.

Jan 15, 2011
8:05 pm

Don’t know about you guys, but personally I always bought a CD with albums I like. I download it at the first, if it likes me I’m going to buy

Jan 19, 2011
1:44 am
#8 Hermes :

I also buy a CD’s but only if album is really cool. How could you know about it? Yes, download it first 😉

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