And the hits just keep on coming for the record industry...and we don't mean that in a good way.
According to Billboard, March album sales in the U.S. were down 17.9% from March 2008. To add insult to injury, the figure is down a staggering 29.8% from the same time period in 2007. Album sales (which includes physical and digital albums) in March averaged 6.6 million units/week. That is one million less a week than the figure for even a month before; in February, the weekly average was 7.6 million. Yes, February gets a sales spike from the Grammys and Valentine's Day, but superstar releases are relatively rare during that time period. March saw releases from acts like U2 and Kelly Clarkson and the month still tanked.
In figures from Nielsen SoundScan, for the first quarter of 2009, album sales were down 13.5% from the first quarter of 2008. Not surprisingly, sales of physical CDs continued to erode; they were down 20.3% from the first three months of 2008. Sales of digital albums (calculated as 10 tracks/album) were up 23%, but the music industry has long stopped hoping that digital sales will match the height of physical album sales.
While these figures are certainly not reason to smile, they don't factor in many of the ways that music is consumed these days, such as through legal digital downloads of single songs, ringtones and, of course, just outright stealing music.
There are plenty of misguided people who are rooting for the "evil" major labels to go under. They forget that these declining numbers represent all album sales... all those indie labels that people love (me included) are taking a hit too. Plus, when an artist like Coldplay sells 3 million copies for EMI, that helps pay for developing new artists or continuing to support under-the-radar, artistic darlings like the Decemberists.