Album sales for 2012 show a moderate decline; industry execs petition to change the word “moderate” to mean “apocalyptically severe”

Album sales for 2012 show a moderate decline; industry execs petition to change the word "moderate" to mean "apocalyptically severe"

In contrast with 2011, when overall album sales in the US miraculously increased by 1.4% over the previous year (in part, courtesy of a green-eyed British idol), Nielsen SoundScan reports that albums sales for 2012 fell by 4.4%, from 331 million to 316 million units. Time to pack it in. We’re back to the downward trend that began in 2004, and major record labels can continue cynically (and now, justifiably) prophesying the death of the music industry, right?

Well, not so fast. There are a couple of statistics that suggest more of a settling around a new normal than a resumption of industry hemorrhaging. First: the 4.4% decrease in 2012 is mild, relative to the near double-digit losses that were experienced between 2006 and 2010. Album sales in 2007 fell by 9.5%, for instance. Second: digital sales of individual songs grew by 5.1% last year, which is slower than in previous years, but again, that points to a new normal. Digital sales of individual tracks were growing by around 30-40% at the same time that physical album sales were decreasing markedly, so what does it say if both aren’t moving much in either direction? Someone let me know if I’m missing a variable here. The music industry lives on, it appears…

Within the realm of overall album sales, CDs continued their reign as the increasingly uncool music medium — according to Billboard, sales decreased by 13.5% to 193.4 million units. Meanwhile, sales of vinyl records increased by 17.7% to 4.55 million units, and the numbers for digital albums grew as well, by 14.1%, improving its share of overall album sales to 37%.

To another year of fiscally inadvisable music purchases!

• Nielsen SoundScan: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/links/Soundscan-BDS.html

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