Album sales: a true measure of old versus new music?


On Friday, Digital Music News published a graph showing that new artists are, for the first time, contributing less than 50% of album sales in music market. Old material, classified as being released over 18 months ago, has steadily grown its share of the market from 37% in 2002 to approximately 51% in the first half of 2012.

Taken at face value, this looks like new music’s share of the music market is being squeezed by a growth in sales of archived music. Yet, on closer inspection, this does not really hold up. Yes, the share of album sales has swung in the favour of old music, but the elephant in the room is that album sales in 2002 and 2012 are vastly different. The bottom is falling out of the industry and as such even if older music has increased to more than 50% of the share of albums sold, the overall number of albums sold (and the revenue generated) has plumetted. Consumers are much more likely to pick up an old album for £3.99 in their record store than a new album for £12.99, as many see £4 as an affordable luxury but £13 as too much. New albums cannot afford to sell at £4 a pop because they would not break-even, whilst the reproduction of old content is a lot cheaper and as such can retail for less. In terms of new music, the sales of albums are not the way forward for the industry. That business model is broken and the music market needs to move beyond it.

New artists recognise this and are therefore not competing heavily in the albums market anymore. The way for these artists to make money is through gigs, festivals, merchandise and monetising their fan base in new and inventive means (e.g. pop-up stores). Album sales are a dying format. If anything, the graph tells us that fans of older music are more likely to buy this music in a physical or downloadable format than fans of new music. What this graph doesn’t tell us, and why it may not be wise to draw wide-reaching conclusions from it, is that album sales are not the focal point of a viable music industry any more and as such cannot be used as an overall indicator of the industry. The music market is much wider than this.

About Phil

Founder of The Phonograph and works in the media sector. Interested in basketball, beer, music, driving, media and american football. Loves Hip Hop.
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