The release of music sales stats halfway thru 2013 are always time for analysis. This year offers some figures that could probably bolster many people’s arguments, depending on how you’d like to skew the data.
The main highlight is that in the US, digital singles have declined 2.3% year-over-year. Even more interesting is that the Q1 decline was 1.34%, while it was 3.3% in Q2. Many people will suggest that streaming usage is finally eroding single sales. This may indeed be the case, but where is the erosion taking place? It’s actually in the middle and the bottom. For while sales are down, the number of titles selling over 1 million copies actually increased 8.5%. The biggest selling title, “Thrift Shop”, sold over 5 million copies, which is similar to last year’s top seller by this point (Gotye).
Certainly, streaming is likely to erode sales in the future. Where this is eroding sales in the present is in the niche and fringe songs, not in the hits. If anything, what also seems to be happening is that the gap between revenue of hits and non-hits appears to be widening. This can be occurring due to a multitude of factors. Streaming availability is one, but so is the abundance of song titles available to the public. As we head to a point where digital single sales are likely plateauing, it becomes increasingly clear that the hits are taking up an ever-increasing percentage of this pie.
Where the niches may be finding success is in the digital album sale. The one sales increase stat so far this year is digital albums which are up 6.3%. Overall album sales are down, but that could be due to an increasingly shrinking shelf space at retail amidst tighter ordering of physical product. This suggests that while niche single sales might be down, niche album sales of quality acts might be on the rise. This can certainly explain recent career-strong debut weeks for acts as varied as Queens Of The Stone Age, The National and Wale. On top of that, the albums that have sold “gold” (500,000 or more) in the first 6 months of this year also increased 36%.
Certainly streaming will continue to affect sales numbers as they become more pervasive. For the moment, though, the hits increasingly take up a bigger piece of the pie and it becomes more incumbent to hit those benchmarks in order to make a profitable music venture.
Another bright note…for the second year in a row, the top selling single is a song developed independently by the artist and then upstreamed to a major.