Hear that sound? It’s the dying gasps of the album. This week, overall album sales reached their lowest weekly tally in nearly 20 years.

Album sales for the week ending Aug. 15 totaled  4.98 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan (via Billboard). That marks only the second time—but certainly not the last—that the weekly sum has dropped below 5 million since SoundScan started monitoring sales in 1991. The first time was a mere  three months ago, when they were 4.98 million.

We’re not going to chronicle every new low because we have a feeling they’ll come fast and furiously from here on out, but there are a few things worth noting. This tally includes digital sales of albums and album equivalents (which SoundScan counts as 10 tracks from a CD), so if there’s anyone alive out there who thinks digital is going to save the music industry in its current form, wake up. Actually, this should come as no surprise since digital sales have been plateauing. 

The real problem is that major labels, who were too arrogant and too slow to turn their ship in the new direction when downloading began, aren’t making up the money they’ve lost in album sales through other business means, such as licensing or 360 deals (where they share in publishing and touring profits).  And for all of you who are screaming “death to the majors,” do you really think it’s a good idea? They are still investing millions in new acts and I bet you can find at least one act on a major label that you really like if you try. Majors are certainly an increasingly less vital part of the picture and, much to the good of the industry, far from the only way to break great artists, but even indies are struggling with these numbers.
More about all in a commentary coming later today.

When do you think we'll drop below 4 million?