HMV has just crawled through another near-collapse, and UK music sales continue to go down the pan. So well done to the British Phonographic Institute (BPI) for putting a brave face on things. Here’s my detailed analysis…
Singles are king
To kick things off on a positive note, last year was at least the fifth in a row to see the most ever single sales, with 188.6 million copies sold in 2012. Of these, nearly all were sold digitally.
For established artists, getting a hit onto what used to be called “the chart” is proving more difficult by the week. Here are some numbers, in approximate thousands:
So the sales by position now aren’t dissimilar to what they were in the late 1990s. But compared to the last decade, it’s considerably more difficult to get a hit. Whereas a 2007 single selling 10,000 copies would have been close to the top 10, now it wouldn’t scrape the top 30. A former top 40 hit would be lucky to hit the top 75. And getting onto the top 75 now is literally harder than it’s ever been before, requiring twice as many sales as you needed fifteen years ago.
In short, it’s no wonder none of our favourite old skool artists are anywhere near the charts any more!
Albums always used to be very seasonal, with an enormous explosion of sales on the weeks running up to Christmas; a few weeks of post-Christmas explosion; followed by a bit of a lull; and then another lull in the summer. This is still largely true.
But singles never really used to demonstrate this kind of pattern. Until 2008. For the last five years, a small number of releases close to the number one spot have seen an astonishing increase in sales. The weeks around Christmas – and particularly the week after – are now by far the most important in music.
Digital album sales climbed from 26.6 million to 30.5 million, continuing a strong increase but not entirely making up for the 17 million copy drop in CD album sales. Overall, album sales for last year were very slightly above 100 million, a level which by my calculations probably hasn’t been seen since the early 1980s.
It was last June that the BPI announced that digital sales had finally eclipsed physical sales, and that’s not a trend which is going to reverse any time soon.
Stream of consciousness
Songs were streamed 3.7 billion times in 2012, equivalent, apparently, to 140 streams per household. Or about half a stream per person. It’s an impressive number, and I have no doubt that it’s exploding year-on-year, but it’s also a pretty small figure.
But it’s fair to say that the likes of Spotify and iTunes Match are where the future lies, so let’s see what this year brings.
The vinyl countdown
As with every year recently, the BPI were keen this year to make a story about an ongoing year-on-year increase in LP sales, as the numbers went up another 15% to 389,000. Which is nice, but I’m not convinced it’s all that significant, as this table should demonstrate:
|Year||Vinyl Albums Sold|
True, they’re creeping up steadily. But in 1975, a little under 92 million LPs were delivered to music shops. Still think 389,000 is significant? Times change, I suppose.
The full UK revenue analysis doesn’t normally appear from the BPI till around this time of year, so at the time of writing I’ve not seen them yet. The trend in recent years has been a huge decline in revenues from physical sales; alongside a huge increase in revenues from downloads. New media, such as ringtones; subscriptions; and advertising-supported streaming see increases but are still small; and live revenues grow a little too.
Interestingly, the overall decline has actually been pretty gentle, but I won’t post the numbers here yet, as it really depends which source you use. But on the plus side for consumers, the average price of an album is now more than £3 lower than it was a decade ago. Instinct suggests to me that the revenues are not only being collected from different places, but they’re probably no longer going to the same people either.
But then in 2012, global music revenues saw a very slight but significant increase of 0.3% to $16.48bn. So have we finally hit a turning point for the world of music after a decade of decline? The Guardian says it’s not significant, but it is tempting to wonder.
Thanks to Zobbel, Buzzjack, Reuters, The BPI and The Official Charts Company for the numbers.