Despite digital growth, albums’ days look numbered

Not even the biggest-seller of all time can put a shine on it – the music album may be spinning its last revs per minute.

Year-to-date cross-format album unit sales dipped by 3.2 percent (U.S.) and 13.8 percent (UK), according to figures released this week by Nielsen SoundScan and British Phonographic Industry. That came despite:

  • Digital album unit sales growing 13.8 percent (U.S.) and 17.3 percent (UK).
  • Adele’s 21 turning in such large sales that it already surpassed Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the highest-selling album ever (UK).
  • A 14.2 percent upturn in vinyl album sales (U.S.).

Since the early noughties, single-track unit sales have been rejuvenated by digital technology and distribution and are now helping the music industry as a whole to overall growth. Year-to-date single sales are up 5.6 percent (U.S.) and 6.3 percent (UK).

But, for albums, it is a different story – now the atomisation of music consumption from multi-track packs to single units is really kicking in.

The British Phonographic Industry nevertheless cites “solid growth” in digital album sales. CEO Geoff Taylor (via release):

“Album unit sales are down quite significantly year-on-year, but it’s important to remember that these unit sales figures do not take into account the growing importance of music streaming and subscription services.”

It is certainly conceivable that many consumers listening through services like Spotify are listening to whole albums. Such consumption would be accounted for as licensing income rather than volume sales.

Regardless, Spotify is keen to promote the playlist as the primary music organisation unit.