Music Sales Somehow Didn’t Implode Last Year…

Here’s another non-Armageddon from 2012: according to preliminary, US-based Nielsen Soundscan data tipped by the RIAA, recorded music sales dipped just a few percentage points last year.  Which means, this is a recording industry that continues to slowly bleed, year after year, instead of completely flatline. “Barring any major last minute shifts, overall sales volumes for 2012 will likely be down in the low single digits on a percentage basis,” wrote RIAA vice president Joshua Friedlander.

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But wait: this is the RIAA here, a supremely sloppy disinformation machine, one that likes to manufacture fictions like ‘track equivalent albums’ and fleeing piracy.  But earlier information also suggests a soft decline in 2012: according to Soundscan data revealed just a few weeks back, album sales are tracking about 4 percent below 2011 levels (across both digital and physical formats).

Separately, downloads were tracking 6 percent higher, with a rather unimpressive, low-billion result in the wings.  Soggy indeed, but not implosive, especially given the rapid rise of Spotify.  Here’s how the album picture was tracking in December.


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And what about the rest?  Unfortunately, no one is really tracking the rest in a comprehensive fashion, including revenues from subscription platforms (ie, Spotify and Deezer), ad-based streaming (ie, YouTube), internet radio (ie, Pandora and friends), publishing, and even synch-based advertising revenue.  Which is too bad, since all of that stuff is increasing pretty rapidly, raising the question of exactly where music revenues – across the spectrum – are actually landing.

Across the pond, the scene in the UK is far bloodier, but more on that later…

Written while listening to Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

7 Responses

  1. Adam

    What? I thought you said Spotify was meant to kill albums sales, this makes no sense.

    • Vnylst

      Streaming services don’t want to open “Pandora’s Box” on where the money’s going. That’d surely move artists further away from their services as we’ve seen recently.

    • mnm

      your lack of knowledge is almost as embarrassing as your failed “music career”

  2. Joshua Friedlander

    I’m writing to clarify a few comments in this article that refer to the RIAA blog. First, a great deal of time and effort by a lot of people goes into compiling our year-end sales and shipment data – and Digital Music News frequently reposts that data – so characterizing this work as a “sloppy disinformation machine” seems a little unfair. Second, although industry level data is not yet available across all of “the rest” of the categories mentioned, the RIAA has been publishing data on many of these revenue streams for years ( Finally, while no one is claiming that “track equivalent albums” are the same thing as albums, it is a useful gauge to look at the market including both singles and albums. Also, it was created by the Nielsen Company, not the RIAA.

    • paul

      Wow, an actual response from the RIAA (I think it’s been years) 😉 Josh, yes I’ll strongly stand by the statement that the RIAA is a “sloppy disinformation machine,” and that creates serious credibility issues for your organization within specific arguments like this one. Thanks to you guys, my bullshit meter goes to 11.

      Also, I’d definitely be interested in looking through the broader data set — let’s connect on that (paulr@…)


  3. Muckraker

    I’m wondering if any of our independent aggregrates (Cd Baby or maybe Tommy) have any estimates on the total of indie releases last year?

    Are we still seeing the trend from a few years ago of 75k “major” releases, but closer to 120k indie releases – (which, of course, are not counted in these numbers)?