As we previously reported, album sales are at a record all-time low in the U.S. Last week, album sales totaled 3.97 million for the week, marking the first time the tally has dropped below 4 million, unprecedented in the SoundScan era (which kicked off with tracking sales data in 1991).
Billboard — who has a partnership with SoundScan — is the first to report album and sales news, the good, the bad and the ugly. Today it was reported that sales are slightly up from that grim news last week, 5% only (to 4.2 million), due to Ariana Grande's fresh “My Everything.” But still, that makes it trending low, which Ed Christman said is only to be expected.
“The weekly average number of album sales fell from 4.75 million units in the first quarter to 4.55 million units in the second quarter. In the first 8 weeks of the third quarter, the average has fallen further to 4.2 million. This decline is actually in line with historical trends.”
Sales for the year are down 15% compared to totals from the same point last year so far.
Who is buying albums right now?
Let's do a spot cross-section: artists who all have earned No. 1 albums on The Billboard 200 sales chart in 2014.
It says a lot that Tom Petty earned his first No. 1 album ever just this summer. Now, I want you to try and name a Tom Petty song that's fewer that 15 years old. Bruce Springsteen nabbed one week, as did “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Young girls love “5 Seconds of Summer” and the “Frozen” soundtrack. Sweet God, do they ever love “Frozen.”
Coldplay, Rick Ross, Beyonce, Eric Church, Jack White, Trey Songz and Ariana Grande had previously earned No. 1 on the chart one or more times. They all have had hit radio singles, No. 1 for each of the genre categories.
“Now 49” and “Now 50” are bred from the same radio single compilation series, for those people who cannot be bothered to cherry-pick their favorite hits. “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack is essentially, too, a hits compilation of late-1960s and '70s hits, aligning with one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer.
The newbies and anomalies are rappers Wiz Khalifa and Schoolboy Q, soft pop/rock songwriter Ed Sheeran, country artist Miranda Lambert, rockers The Black Keys and “Chandelier” singer Sia.
There, of course, are many other new and old albums that have sold and sold moderately well in 2014. But start thinking about that long tail — those indie bands that have a lot of buzz, those 2013 albums that only got heir due (or radio single) later, the popular touring band that has no airplay. And critical acclaim doesn't guarantee that sale — or even the full-album stream.
5 Ways To Maybe Save A Dismal Year Like This One
1. Adele: She's one of the few post-2000 artists to have passed the 10-million units mark with a single album, for “21,” and the only artist to have done it post-2010. Her album spent 24 weeks in the penthouse of The Billboard 200, which also keeps it in the consciousness of the buying public. Likelihood of her sweeping in to save the day? It's September, folks; this month is the time labels start their 3-month album promotional cycle in time for holiday gift season. There has been no single farmed from her new album — purportedly called “25.” She's said over and over again that she'll take her sweet time producing her next, especially after vocal cord surgery and having a baby. Not really counting on her pulling a Beyonce and surprising us either. So, low chance but weirdly possible, with many limitations.
2. Taylor Swift: “Shake It Off” is definitely a song you'll hear for a year straight. She's got her next album “1989” set for October and the Swift brand is still on the rise: Swift is squarely out of the “country” category now and into the A-list celebrity and artistry world, here to stay for young buyers as well as those who “grew up” with her handful of hits from each album. Released in October 2012, her previous “Red” sold a brain-blowing 1.21 million copies in its first week, and while this new one may not fare nearly as well this fall, “1989” will be far-and-away one of the best-selling albums this year. But save the year? She'll have to sing at every ballgame, awards show, late-night TV show and morning show on top of making the purchase of her album more appealing (or the only option — she didn't let Spotify stream “Shake It Off,” users could only YouTube, buy or find their way around).
3. An Eminem album plus a Drake or a Kanye or Jay Z album: Best-seller Eminem's “Recovery” fared well two years ago, but not Adele-well. Sometimes, rap artists help amplify the sales of other rap artists, or come seemingly in a package (Young Money acts, Watch the Throne, etc.). While Kanye West and Nicki Minaj are guaranteed to sell well on their own, they couldn't do enough to dent this stinker of a sales run this year. Eminem is helping release the Shady Records “ShadyXV” compilation this fall, but not a new studio album. So no go on this front — if Minaj wants to put an onsale date on her “Pinkprint,” though, we're all for it. Just need to rock the Top 5 in airplay with “Anaconda” or otherwise first if she wants to make a big move on album sales. Notice I did not bring up Lil Wayne's “Tha Carter V.” Because I dunno, man.
4. A gangbusters Christmas album: These new titles will hit starting in October, and tend to make up some sleeper sales late in the year, on top of albums purchased as stocking stuffers for family. But, I mean, it'd have to be a Michael Buble duets album with Mariah Carey and special guest Susan Boyle, or Bing Crosby returning from the dead to personally ring your doorbell and hand you a copy of whatever's there to shill. Or, hey, we hear “Frozen's” still popular, how 'bout Josh Gad singing “Silent Night.”
5. Sale! Sale! Sale! And not just on Black Friday. Billboard requires a minimum $3.49 price tag in the first four weeks of release for an album to count toward their chart, and charting is important to many labels. Though, can you imagine, if CDs were $5, and all the digital sales of albums were $3.50 for a day, and it all was promoted across the board in a disgusting display of the reduced value of art (or “art”)? Gnashing of teeth, counting of dollars, uptick in “sales.” Also: never gonna happen.
What won't work to help this poor sales year?
That Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett standards album: Promotion on “Cheek to Cheek” is warm right now, and Bennett is catnip to older buyers, especially those who helped shoot “Duets II” up to the summit in 2012 (179,000 first week). Gaga's “Artpop” also made No. 1, with 258,000 first-week. But don't go thinking combining the two will make Taylor Swift numbers, maybe more like 300,000. The two could be doing more together than archival studio videos, and the ought to do that soon, since it's due in less than three weeks.
These best-sellers combined: Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Antebellum, Weezer and Foo Fighters all have confirmed albums due this fall. The latter actually stands a chance of taking a big bite into sales, due to a bump of exposure from the series of the same name (created by Dave Grohl) on HBO. Maroon 5 (out this week with “V”) is going to do well. But not Adele well.
Rumored albums: Rihanna, U2 and One Direction have sent out whiffs of fall/holiday releases. Has the hype cooled on all them, however?
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” soundtrack: It's being curated by Lorde, so who the heck knows what all she'll slap on there. That movie, though? Will take all the money that's left over the holidays.
These potentially awesome albums: Run the Jewels, “RTJ2”; Charli XCX “Sucker”; Scott Walker + Sunn O))), “Soused”; Jessie Ware, “Tough Love”; Death From Above 1979, “The Physical World”; Aphex Twin, “SYRO.” These won't move many copies. You should give them a spin anyway.
Oh, so there still might be good music out there. Why are sales still falling so badly?
This is a gimme. CD and digital album sales are both falling. There's been a decreasing number of brick-and-mortar stores (ones you actually, physically, walk into) because specialty shops closed and the big boxes like Best Buy and Wal-mart aren't gonna keep sinking money into stock they can't move (including smaller, harder-to-find releases).
There are some young people who will never buy a CD in their life. Some haven't ever even bought an album, whether on Amazon or iTunes, Best Buy or Amoeba or Barnes & Noble. Single sales in 2013, though, were also down…
But streaming is up. Before, it was just piracy and illegal downloading eating away at sales, starting in 2000. Now it's Spotify and Pandora on top of that.
How do you best support the music and musicians you love?