Album sales decline, but is the slump slowing?
By Ken Barnes, USA TODAY
Album sales for the first quarter of 2008 are down by double digits, but that's significantly less than 2007's decline. So there's more than one way to look at the results.For the glass-half-empty crowd, this year's numbers continue a trend that has seen album sales tumble from 140.4 million in 2006's first quarter to 104.5 million this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan — a drop of more than 25% in two years.
For the Mr. Brightside contingent, the decline from 2007 is 11%, compared with a 17% first-quarter drop a year ago.
But Billboard charts director Geoff Mayfield cautions against assuming that album sales are bottoming out.
"They could be, but we've heard that a time or two before," he says. "With a decline in sales in six of the last seven years," the industry can't be sure the worst is over.
In the short run, though, it might be. Mayfield cites upcoming releases by Mariah Carey (April 15) and Usher (May 27) as albums that "should help to slow down the erosion. You have a better chance of a winning hand if you have the aces."
He notes that this year's first quarter "didn't have that strong of a release schedule" — no new album has sold 1 million copies so far this year, though Jack Johnson's Sleep Through the Static came closest with 975,000. But he points out that it's customary for record companies to hold back superstar releases until later in the year. Just four of 2008's top 10 albums (Johnson, the Juno soundtrack, Michael Jackson's Thriller reissue and Radiohead's In Rainbows) were released to retail this year; the other six are holdovers from 2007 or before.
Taking a longer view, Mayfield says, "the business has changed. In the '70s, albums drove the market," replacing singles. "With the advent of digital music, we went in the opposite direction. Not only are people buying individual songs again, but there's a much broader spectrum of songs available. In the '90s, record companies suppressed the sales of hit singles" by not making them available at retail. "They can't do that any more."
Consumers are making more music purchases now than they did 10 years ago. "The number of individual tracks sold in 2007 exceeds the total sales of albums and singles in 1997. And there are so many ways for people to consume music these days," he adds, citing satellite and online radio and numerous music-streaming websites.
"Albums are by no means the only indicator of music's vitality."
[Edited 4/2/08 19:53pm]
"And When The Groove Is Dead And Gone, You Know That Love Survives, So We Can Rock Forever" RIP MJ
"Baby, that was much too fast"...Goodnight dear sweet Prince. I'll love you always
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