Worse Than Worst Ever? Tommy Boy Starts Number-Crunching Again

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Does this industry still need more breaking down before it can be built back up?

The last week of May was the worst album sales week in decades, though Tommy Boy founder Thomas Silverman says the realities are even more bleak.  In a recent comment to an earlier Digital Music News story, Silverman noted that the end-of-May analysis was solely based on unit sales, a yardstick that fails to account for factors like inflation and a decline in wholesale album pricing.

Actually, the two are dangerously intertwined.  At a top level, prices of goods and services need to increase over time, just to stay ahead of inflation. But by lowering wholesale costs over time, labels are suffering a double impact decline.

Dialing back decades get a bit more complicated.  Billboard attempted a unit-to-unit comparison, though only label-tallied (and highly unreliable) ship figures are available prior to 1991.  On top of that, average wholesale prices – weighted by the Consumer Price Index – need to be applied to properly compare the periods.

But one stark comparison is worth noting, specifically for the Beatles.  “The first Beatles album in America came out in 1964 at $4.98 list,” Tommy Boy continued.  “In today’s dollars that would be $35 for a 28 minute, monophonic 8-song album.”