Will this be the low point? U.S. album sales have hit a new low in the 22-year SoundScan era. For each of the past five weeks, total scans have been lower than 5 million, the longest stretch in SoundScan history.
Even worse, for the past two weeks, album sales hit consecutive record lows, according to Billboard. For the week ending July 21, total album sales were 4.71 million units. For the week ending July 28, they were 4.68 million.
As you know, album sales have been plummeting since 2000. While many in the industry tried to convince themselves that digital sales would make up for the falling physical sales, these numbers are sad proof that this is not the case. As CD sales continue to decline (sales are down 14.1 % so far in 2013 over 2012), digital sales are also slowing. In the Q1 2013, digital sales were up 10.4%, but that figure slowed to 1.9% for the second quarter.
As a comparison, Billboard notes that sales dropped below 5 million for the week for the first time in 2010. That year, there were four weeks under the 5 million watermark, in 2011, two weeks; in 2012, three weeks. So far in 2013, there have been nine weeks, the last five of them in a row.
Of course, some of this can be attributed to a relatively weak summer release schedule that will heat back up in the fall with new albums from Katy Perry, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and more. Industry observers also cite the continuing decline in catalog album sales, which are down 8.8% from last year.
As CD sales continue to decline (sales are down 14.1 % so far in 2013 over 2012), digital sales are also slowing. In Q1 2013, digital sales were up 10.4%, but that figure slowed to 1.9% for the second quarter.
The larger question is how are streaming services siphoning off sales? Streaming revenue and subscribers continues to grow, although both Spotify and Pandora are losing money. Will a subscription or freemium service ever make up for the decline in sales? I can’t imagine it happening. And while Spotify likes to say it doesn’t hurt album sales, I know that I don’t buy as many albums as I used to, especially when I can stream them at the click of a mouse.
How low will they continue to go? Will we be writing stories about SoundScan numbers not reaching above 4 million for several weeks in a row this time next year? While older consumers continue to purchase music, a recent MTV survey showed that 68% of kids thought music should be free. As new distribution models evolve, such as Jay Z’s deal with Samsung, SoundScan may have to figure out more accurate ways to count sales (Remember, it didn’t count the 1 million copies of “Magna Carta Holy Grail” downloaded via Samsung), but even then, the numbers are still likely to plummet.