Nope. 2014 was not a great year for the MP3 industry. According to reports in The Wall Street Journal, sales of downloaded songs and albums “plummeted” while the use of streaming grew “sharply.”
And, for the icing on the cake: Vinyl sales are up significantly.
The Who and What By Numbers
Let’s briefly review 2014:
- Downloaded album sales dropped 9%.
- Downloaded song sales dropped 12%.
- Streaming grew by a whopping 54%.
Total album consumption was 257 million units. Downloaded albums represent 106.5 million of that total.
Hipsters should note that while vinyl sales are up, it’s only 9.2 million units in all. That’s about 4% of total (“new”) album sales across formats. Despite the saber rattling across posts and shares – as well as my own wishes for our culture – that’s not enough to spill a PBR (or Genessee) over.
To put a face on some of these numbers, Taylor Swift had the biggest album sales of the year with more than 3.66 million copies of her 1989.
So . . .
On the surface, the significant movement of these numbers in such a short period of time is what is most impressive. And, even more importantly, it’s interesting to put these numbers in perspective among broader trending across decades (RIAA offers a lot of data available via subscription). For example, notice how cycles in format adoption have sped up.
The assumption that consumers are purchasing and downloading single songs while abandoning whole albums is wrong. The data backs this up. Among us enlightened music consumers, we may not like who they download or how they download it, but they still value the “album” as a collection of songs. In fact, since 2013, single song downloads declined more than album downloads.
The impact to what remains of an always clueless “music industry” is clear. People are listening to more music while they – and the artists – make less money.
. . . And In The End
These numbers tell us more about how our culture’s consumption habits and brains are evolving than they do about our music tastes.
The free market can be a real bitch. Music makers have greater access to instruments, collaboration, and distribution. Consumers have access to more music, more artists, and more formats. Are the sheeple engaging with albums and album tracks in ways that the enlightened would prefer? Who knows? They probably never will anyway.
These shifts in trends raise an interesting question about how artists integrate the distribution format into their work. For example, in 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hears Club Band, The Beatles mixed several seconds of sound for the record’s run-out groove. This was followed by a 15 kilocycle pitch that was included especially for dogs. Interestingly, use of the run-out groove actually dates back to recordings for 78s.
For most, the uncomfortable fact of the matter is that music now – like sales charts – is mostly data. That fact is not inherently good or bad. The real question is, what next?