Album Sales At 20-Year Low

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

American Songwriter reported yesterday that each digital music player owned by teens and college students house an average of 800 illegally obtained tracks. As expected, this trend has caused a ripple effect throughout the music industry, and it’s difficult to predict what’s to come.American Songwriter reported yesterday that each digital music player owned by teens and college students house an average of 800 illegally obtained tracks. As expected, this trend has caused a ripple effect throughout the music industry, and it’s difficult to predict what’s to come.

Back in 1985, when the Dire Straits released “Money for Nothing,” it seemed like musicians were making just that; with record sales relatively booming and the CD medium on the rise, they made payroll for doing what they loved and selling it to consumers. But today, according to the U.K. Times, it appears that worldwide music sales have reached their lowest point in the 20-some-year span since the prosperous ‘80s era.

Last year, 1.86 billion albums were sold including paid-for downloads, representing an 11 percent decline from the 2.09 billion sold in 2006. In 1985, unit sales were also around 1.8 billion, but on the rise as the CD increased in popularity. This boost was followed by a run of growth in sales that peaked in 2006 with 3.4 billion.

So, with piracy at an all-time high, record sales have hit their lowest levels in decades. Bad news, Dire Straits; installing microwave ovens and making kitchen deliveries just got a lot more attractive. Or did it?

Despite the current mess, we may, in fact, be headed for better times. 1.8 billion albums were sold in 1985-the same as today-followed by years of prosperity, all because of the CD craze. Currently, the digital download seems to be replacing the CD, and it’s a medium on the rise, arguably, just as CDs were between the ‘80s and ‘90s. According to Sydney, Australia’s Courier Mail, the number of digital downloads is set to accelerate over the next few years. “Legal music downloads now account for 20 percent of music sales in Australia,” it reported, and while “Australians spent $100,000 on digital downloads four years ago, the figure is set to rise to $100 million in 2008.”

Some record labels across the globe may begin to use social networking sites like Facebook to increase revenue from digital downloads, among other tactics. And as legal options become cheaper and more available, according to a report by research analysts IBISWorld, “legal downloads will start to outpace illegal downloads.” While legal downloads currently make up 20 percent of music sales in Australia, the Fairfax Digital went on to suggest that “music download sales… in five years will make up more than half of the market.”

As far as things go in the U.S., a Forrester Research report earlier this year predicted digital sales to grow by 23 percent annually through 2012, at which point they will reach $4.8 billion in annual sales. From hemisphere to hemisphere, it appears the trend is catching on.

No one will argue that piracy isn’t a problem, and CD sales are at an all-time low. But digital sales seem to be getting more popular, and many hope that they will someday exceed the losses suffered due to piracy and decreases in physical sales. As digital music gets cheaper and easier to obtain legally, sanctions for violating copyright laws become more stringent, so there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

We live in a rapidly changing technological and legislative environment – will the digital download catch on as quickly as the CD did between the ‘80s and ‘90s, and will it maintain speed? We hope so, and we shall see!

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