Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Look at all the big records coming out, including Sarah McLachlan, Drake, Miley Cyrus, Eminem and Jack Johnson."

What to buy first?
(worried; put hands to mouth)


Bad times just got worse.

For the week ending May 30, the U.S. music industry sold a total of 4,984,000 albums, according to Nielsen Soundscan. This figure, which includes new and catalog releases, represents the fewest number of albums sold in one week since Soundscan began compiling this data in 1994.

By comparison, album sales for the week ending May 31, 2009, totaled 5.76 million. The highest one-week tally recorded during the Soundscan era is 45.4 million albums, in late December, 2000.

This week's record low comes as the major record companies continue to reckon with a decade-long decline in sales, and as other prominent sectors of the industry, such as the touring business, go through sea changes of their own.

And that's not all: While there's no exact way to compare last week's total against imprecise, pre-Soundscan tallies, Billboard estimates that weekly album sales volume could, in fact, be at its lowest point since the early 1970s.

"We think this is the lowest week ever, or at least of the Soundscan era," says Universal Music Group Distribution president Jim Urie.

According to the RIAA, album shipments in 1973 totaled 388.2 million units, an average of 7.47 million per week. Because Soundscan measures albums sold (i.e. scanned) and not albums shipped, Billboard looked at the relationship between annual album shipments, as measured by the RIAA, and annual albums sold, as compiled by Soundscan, for the years 1992-2009. During that period, shipments exceeded scans by an average of 30%.

By applying that 30% figure to the 1973 RIAA album shipment data, Billboard estimates that weekly album sales volume for that year may have totaled about 5.5 million units. That exceeds this past week's tally by 600,000 copies. (The RIAA began keeping figures on album shipments in 1973.)

Veteran sales executives caution against putting too much stock into pre-Soundscan record keeping. "Who the hell knows what weekly sales were back then," says Lou Dennis, who retired as Warner Bros. Records head of sales in 1996.

Whatever the benchmark, industry executives agree that this week's album sales total of 4.98 million units is "pretty scary," in the words of Bruce Ogilvie, CEO of leading music wholesaler Super D.

Digital track sales for the week totaled 21.7 million, and are distinct from the album sales tally.

UMGD's Urie cites this week's album total as "all the more reason why everyone in the industry should be focused on getting the U.S. Congress to introduce legislation that makes the Internet service providers our allies in fighting piracy. Piracy is getting worse and worse and the government needs to focus on that."

Like Ogilvie, Urie thinks that the slow release schedule is the main reason for the drop-off. "This week is likely a major aberration with no big new releases out," he says. "June will be big. Look at all the big records coming out, including Sara McLachlan, Drake, Miley Cyrus, Eminem and Jack Johnson."

Sound like a great June.


Leslie said...

Wait, wait, wait...didn't Miley promise us all she'd never make another album?

itsok2beright said...

This can go in a million directions. First, by having a distinct accounting for digital sales, how can there be a comparison. Then, even if it can be assumed that music purchases are down, (by dollar, by song, by album, by download, by illegal copy???), the number of reasons is more than the number of conspiracy scenarios for JFK.

My top ten reasons on why overall distribution is down (not a comedic list), and it does not include illegal copying:

10. MTV Cribs. If they are all so poor, they shouldn't show their bazillion dollar houses on TV.
9. Crime. Very similar to 10 with respect to the artists image. We can't keep seeing images of these musicians getting arrested, shot at, killed, etc., without censoring our children's choice of music. (I'd also add tattoos to this one.) Hate to see it, but image is everything.
8. Record company executives. They need to stop looking for the next one-hit wonder, and let musicians write music they like to play.
7. Radio stations. The lack of real diversity is getting ridiculous. My daughter listens to Z-100, and their playlist consists of 10 songs. Every new edgy station will eventually move to the middle garbage for better ratings. (I'm waiting for RXP to follow that road).
6. Distribution. I am computer literate, but that doesn't mean I want my music digitally. There are no more real record stores where I can go in and browse for real music. (I know Sal, this one hurts). As Rainman said K-Mart sucks (and now Wal-Mart), but in suburbia, they are the only places that actually have a reasonable selection (That really sucks!!).
5. Cost. I can be a little cheap, but to walk into FYE (when I find one), and see CD's for $20, I just can't fork it over.
4. Volume of available portable media. You cannot go anywhere and not be able to have some form of entertainment presented to you constantly. Days of needing a record player or tape deck are over. You can even get DirecTV on airplanes. Who needs to buy their own entertainment anymore.
3. Ear-buds. This sounds silly, but with the lowering standard of acceptable sound quality comes the acceptance of a lower quality of music, which leads to 7 & 8.
2. Cross-generational talent. Since Elvis, the Beatles, Disco (that hurts), Michael Jackson and others, their has not been any true music or musician with mass appeal to draw from various age groups.
1. Saturation??? With the availability of boxed sets of every artist in existence, is it necessary to buy any new music? This blog alone has had me open up some of my own old stuff, and catch up on previously purchased music that I haven't heard in years. I'm in no rush to start a collection of a new artist, when I haven't finished listening to my old music.

I can also add:
12. Talent. This one speaks for itself.
11. Politics, politics, politics. I have no problem listening to a musician whose political opinion is different than mine. Actually, most have a different opinion than mine. But, when musicians use their popularity to get their political voice heard, they risk losing their popularity with what they say. Back in the day, I think the record companies knew how to keep their artists image a little more mainstream.

There are many more reasons. I'm sure Sal has a few good ones.