Another Thud: CD Sales Now Back at Mid-90s Levels

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US-based CD sales are now back to mid-90s levels, according to data revealed by Nielsen Soundscan on Monday.

“If you look at 1995, there were 368 million CD albums purchased, and in 2008, we were basically back to that same volume,” said Nielsen’s Chris Muratore, during a data-focused presentation at NARM.  The 2008 total was roughly 360 million.

And 2009?  Muratore noted that year-to-date album sales are tracking 13 percent lower than comparable volumes in 2008.  That is slightly better than a year-2008 decline of 14 percent (to 428.4 million overall), though major label insiders are still pointing to a desperate mood.  Just recently, Soundscan numbers showed a 54.6 percent decline in album sales this decade, the wrong side of a run-up.

The comparison was just one of several downbeat figures revealed at NARM, a thinly-attended contrast to the party days of yore.  Instead of big crowds, big deals, and over-the-top performances, the 2009 event easily blended into the larger Marriott and surrounding streets of downtown San Diego.

But those still in the game are puzzling their way through a bizarre tease.  Despite a crumbling physical story, music appetites remain incredibly high and incredibly difficult to monetize.  In a separate panel, BigChampagne CEO Eric Garland pointed to voracious appetites for music – across channels like MySpace Music, YouTube, and BitTorrent.  On the download side, fans are increasingly guilty of “music hoarding” and amassing “big, terrifying collections,” a growing acquisition habit that makes the $1.29 download seems totally ill-priced and out-of-place.

In that light, a flattening paid download story makes more sense.  According to the Soundscan numbers, one-off, paid downloads are now slated to hit 1.2 billion this year, up from 1.068 billion in 2008.  That projected increase – 12.4 percent – is far lower than previous periods, and far short of a physical replacement figure needed.

And vinyl?  Wax is the lone booming format, though it remains a nostalgic niche.  According to Nielsen, vinyl sales are up 55 percent in 2009 alone, though the category accounts for just under one percent of overall album sales.

Report by publisher Paul Resnikoff in San Diego.