85% of 2008’s Music Went Unsold

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

In a rather bleak display of numbers, a study of digital music sales reported that 10 million of the 13 million tracks released during 2008 did not sell (with only 173,000 of 1.23 million albums selling), meaning that only 15 percent of this year’s available music was able to do any business.

In a rather bleak display of numbers, a study of digital music sales reported that 10 million of the 13 million tracks released during 2008 did not sell (with only 173,000 of 1.23 million albums selling), meaning that only 15 percent of this year’s available music was able to do any business.

This study disproves the theory of “niche marketing,” which was heavily touted by author Chris Anderson in his 2006 book The Long Tail. The basic premise of the book predicted that digital music sales would switch from being primarily big hits to a majority of small, “niches in the tail.”

2008 showed that there is still only one important “niche” in music sales-huge, mainstream hits-80 percent of the tracks sold in 2008 came from only 52,000 songs.

Will Page of the MCPS-PRS Alliance and Andrew Bud of mBlox conducted the study. Anderson is waiting for Page and Bud to release their sources before he considers changing his theory.

“I think people believed in a fat, fertile long tail because they wanted it to be true,” said Mr Bud. “The statistical theories used to justify that theory were intelligent and plausible. But they turned out to be wrong. The data tells a quite different story. For the first time, we know what the true demand for digital music looks like.”

Regardless of whether or not 2008 is the sign of a trend in digital music sales, these numbers should certainly spark a dialogue about a potentially dynamic industry that may just want to stay the same.



6 Comments

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  1. What this might also prove is that widespread access to songs being heard via radio is still limited to the those songs with the most potential for mass appeal. Which creates the void for unknown acts to stay lost within. What we need is more freedom of programming for radio stations.

  2. great.
    you just proved pareto’s principle again. 80 percent of anything comes from 20 percent of the total and when it comes to music that 20 percent is still tightly controlled my current media. you can’t rush change.
    david

  3. Is radio the primary medium? Is broadband internet-based services like Last.FM making any progress in grabbing marketshare? Will there be a shift? Also, this report speaks of ‘sales’ of songs. What about Rhapsody and other entities that ‘lease’ the song with monthly subscriptions? How are those ‘sales’ figured in? Isn’t there a more complex market place occuring with digital transports, than ‘sales of songs’?

    This is most interesting, to me. I want to know what my prospects are of actually making a living in this space…

    – Tomas David Hood –

  4. Been Saying it for YEARS! (see comments at mashable, techcrunch, my site, etc.etc.etc.) The Long Tail is the worst theory in modern times. A complete misrepresentation of reality and completely flawed. Artist/bands that are included in the long tail may have only sold 3 cd’s – which nets them nothing compared to the cost of participation in the tail. IOW, the Long Tail looks at the tail in the WRONG direction! The direction the tail is going isn’t OUT to the PRODUCERS of content (music), it’s INWARD towards the tail itself by the amount spent on PRODUCING. It’s not a tail at all, it’s a black hole that spirals downward. Those that bought into the ‘tale of the Tail’ saw their dreams spiral down that hole as well.

    Paul

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