I would totally have done a ‘The Past – in stats’, except I’m really tired and it’s not really relevant. This is my blog; I get to decide those kinds of things.
Right then, where are we now? Oh yeah:
Lots of people are saying that everyone is saying that the album is dead. Which might just be code for the album is so last year, right guys?
But I think my pro-album bias is showing.
Here are some hard-ish, slightly chilly facts (not all of them will appear relevant at first; stick with it, I’ll explain in a sec.):
- According to the IFPI, US album sales (CD and digital) have declined by 22% since 2008.
- “There were 30m fewer albums sold in the UK [in 2013] than in 2009.”
- There are about 2bn Spotify playlists.
- 29% of streaming ‘consumers’ “mainly listen to albums” (presumably that statistic applies to streaming behaviour, rather than their overall music consumption habits)
- 30% only listen to albums and individual tracks ‘a few times’
- 27% of US music consumers only buy physical formats or downloads (basically, they don’t stream – this makes them a bit more likely to buy albums rather than individual tracks, but not considerably, since they’re still downloading)
- “60% of 16-24 year olds stream while just 20% buy CDs. Compare that to 40-50 year olds where 34% stream and 43% buy CDs.”
- Short-form video managed to get 4.2 trillion views in the first half 2015
- “as sales dwindle (down by 29% in the last 5 years) music fans are investing in their favourite artists in time and attention rather than money. We now operate in an attention economy“
- “In Japan 78% of music sales are still physical.”
- All of this complicated stuff:
In case you hadn’t picked up on it, there’s quite a lot to say about the album. And I’m not going to say all of it. I’m lazy.
Generally speaking, the decline in album sales has been attributed to our dear friend The Internet. The Internet is to blame for piracy (because file-sharing never happened before the internet! Oh wait…), which enabled consumers already sick of album filler to only listen to killer tracks.
Album filler probably evolved as a result of the fluke that was the album format’s success – basically, the album was making so much money (you can charge more for 14 songs than you can for a single or EP) that the music biz was keen to exploit it as much as possible. Labels had all their artists making albums, even if they only had a couple of good songs. It didn’t matter – put the good songs on the radio and people will buy the album and you’ll make money irrespecitve of how bad all the other songs are.
Naturally people got a bit bored of this set-up. They were already skipping certain tracks and making compilation mixtapes / CDs of their favourites; file-sharing just enabled their existing filler-avoiding tendencies. The only trouble is that, by the time that iTunes / legit, paid downloads came around, the album had been well and truly unbundled. iTunes lets us buy the individual tracks rather than pirate them! Hooray! Unfortunately that approach still makes an awful lot less money for everyone involved in the album-making process than album-buying does.
The stats suggest that younger music fans are streaming much more than older fans. And streamers tend to prefer individual tracks to complete albums. Possibly because we young’uns have the collective attention span of goldfish.
To be blunt, when the older generation of full-album listeners dies off, the album might die with it.
Or it might not. Germany and Japan still prefer physical (that’s actually an interesting question; can music ever be physical?) to digital music – which usually means buying CD albums.
No, we can’t kill off all of Germany and Japan in order to get to year zero and invent a new lucrative music format. Stop suggesting that, you maniac.
All in all, it’s kind of good news for the consumer. They’re certainly getting more choice. This is another instance in which the music biz is playing catch-up. We’re all having a bit of a panic about what to do next…