In news that should shock nobody, the digital music racket is starting to lose its luster.
According to Nielsen SoundScan data reported by Digital Music News, paid downloads (the vast majority from iTunes and Amazon) are down about 2.3% from 698 million (!) at the midpoint of 2012 to a paltry 682.2 million by the halfway point of 2013. This is the fourth consecutive reporting period (I guess quarter, they didn’t really elaborate on what a “reporting period” was) in which sales have dropped, the first time ever in the history of the format. Which is, what, 10 or 15 years?
In addition to this horrible, horrible news, digital album sales are drastically slowing down. Also from Digital Music News (don’t they have such neat graphs and stuff?), digital album sales are up 6.3% last year… which is still positive, right? I take it the news here is that sales for the format are starting to plateau and if you’re familiar with the shape of a plateau, once it levels off, after a while it starts to drop.
Now, while the articles above and the headlines make it seem as if this is a major blow to the industry in general, there are a few things to remember. First, there isn’t a powerhouse album like that 2011 album from Adele that kept selling well into 2012 (ask your parents about that). Second, there isn’t a new boy band dropping two albums in one year (ask a tween of some sort). Third, there isn’t a song so ubiquitous that it’s playing in every coffee shop, grocery store, gas station and, book store you go to (that stupid fucking Gotye song that I will not dignify with a hyperlink).
One interesting thing to note is that, from what I understand, the Nielsen SoundScan data includes information from all Amazon and iTunes sales. Therefore, unlike traditional physical SoundScan data that really only takes information from major retailers, this would include any independent artists or labels that make their music available on these services. Since independent shops are sort of excluded from physical sales data, it’s sometimes hard to get an “official” gauge on how an indie record is selling. Personally, I think a better chart/graph would be to look at exactly what labels are increasing/decreasing for paid downloads. Is it just the major label stuff tanking, or have people on both sides of the equation started to jump ship from iTunes etc.? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.