Sales Analysis – 2016

At some point a few months into each year, I try to go through and look at the headlines of the previous year’s music sales. This is, of course, becoming increasingly inaccurate, as the music business shifts away from an ownership-orientated model to one of streaming, so this piece might need a new name in years to come, but let’s go with it anyway for now…

Industry officially alive again

The recovery period is definitely over – music is officially doing well again. Page 11 of IFPI’s global report shows a global increase in revenues from $14.8 to $15.7 billion. The low point was 2014, when it dipped to $14.3 billion. Which is still a significant drop from 1999’s $23.8 billion, but there are finally some green shoots.

The same table shows that whereas all of 1999’s revenue was from physical sales, just 34% of last year’s came from the same source, with 50% from digital sales (including streaming), and the rest from performances in public spaces and advertising.

In the US, revenues overall climbed by 11%, and globally they climbed by 3.2%. The UK’s growth was more modest, at just 1.5%, apparently more due to the 53rd week in the year than the state of British politics.

Interestingly the biggest growth, for seven years running, has been in Latin America – Mexico saw a 23.6% growth in music revenues.

Albums are dead

When I looked at the 2014 sales figures two years ago, I noticed that albums were in decline, but I had pretty much forgotten about it since then. Now it’s really happening.

The US sold the lowest number of albums ever last year, with just a touch over a hundred million copies sold. Hardly a disaster overall, as more than 208 billion tracks were heard on streaming services, but it’s a bit of a shame for the future shape of music generally.

In the UK, streaming accounts for 36% of all music consumption, and one week in December actually clocked over a billion streams. And that’s not even including YouTube, for some reason (although I’m still dubious about the sound quality, but everyone else seems to love it). Meanwhile, digital album sales dropped by 29.6%, and physical sales fell by 9.3%.

But CD sales aren’t entirely unhealthy – Brits still bought 47.3 million albums on CD last year.

From my searching around, nobody even seems to bother reporting singles sales any more.

Yes, vinyl

Back in 2012, I shared a table of LP sales for the preceding decade or so. It might be worth revisiting that – at the time I wasn’t convinced that they were actually going up significantly. I was wrong.

Year Vinyl Albums Sold
2010 236,988
2011 337,000
2012 389,000
2013 781,000
2014 1,289,000
2015 2,115,000
2016 3,200,000

Yes, that’s definitely what a mathematician might call a trend. Apparently that’s the most LPs sold in a year since 1991. Honestly, though, the list of best selling albums (on the same article) shows that most of them were at least two decades old, so it still seems that vinyl is largely sold as collectors’ pieces rather than a means of listening to music.

Of course, there’s an interesting conflict between rising sales of vinyl albums and the fact that most music is consumed through streaming platforms now. There’s more analysis on that here.

Cassettes are the new vinyl. Sort of.

Everybody knows they sound awful, and hardly anyone has anything to play them on any more, but in the US in 2016, cassette sales grew a whopping 74%, although admittedly to only 129,000. The numbers for the UK don’t appear to be available, although sales of “other formats” (including cassettes, MiniDiscs, and DVD Audio) fell from 84,000 to 59,000.

A UK newspaper which I won’t name here because it’s full of Conservative drivel thinks that cassettes are “a hipster trend too far”. Let’s show them who’s boss.

Now everybody loves Drake

I’ve still no idea who he is, and I’m not sure I need to either. Of the top ten global recording artists (see page 8 of this report), two passed away in 2016.

Also, a lot of people still love Adele too, just like they did last year.

By the way, I noticed that for some reason the official Scottish chart still doesn’t include streaming, and for that reason alone, it is great. There’s some interesting discussion on why the UK singles chart has become so universally hated here.

You can read this article’s predecessors here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

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