Actually, album sales are doing fine in America… so long as you’re not iTunes, Walmart or Target

By Tim Ingham 01/09/15

If you’re an LP fan – and considering they’re still the industry’s most lucrative product, you probably are – the stats make for depressing reading: according to Nielsen Soundscan data, full-year LP sales in the US across all formats dropped by a shocking 61.5% between 2004 and 2014 – from 667m all the way down to 257m.

But now Nielsen has released its in-depth report about 2014 in the States. And it appears the album might not be completely doomed after all – so long as it’s not being sold in a massive retailer like Wal-Mart.

Independent stores and ‘non-traditional’ retailers? They’re doing just fine.

Total album sales in the States dropped by 11.2% to 257m in 2014. Digital album downloads – a market which is dominated by iTunes – dropped 9.4% to 106.5m.

But it’s in the physical world where things get interesting. Vinyl LP sales had a stormer, but to no great effect on the wider market – up 51.8% to 9.2m.

And on paper, CD sales had a howler, falling 15% from 165.4m to 140.8m; the biggest format hurting by the biggest amount.

But to really get an accurate picture of physical album sales, it’s important to understand where CD’s decline is taking place – because it ain’t Rough Trade New York.

According to Nielsen, physical album sales in chain stores across America were slashed by a fifth in 2014 – plummeting by a massive 20.6%, from 39.1m to 31m.

Meanwhile, ‘mass merchant‘ stores – like Walmart and Target – suffered a similar fall, with album sales crashing 19.3% from 77.9m to 62.9m.

Between them, these two types of retailer alone saw 23.1m album sales wiped off their bottom line in 2014 – making their tills almost entirely culpable for America’s annual decline in CD sales.

As for independent US music stores, their year in album sales was flat – down just 0.5% in unit terms to 18.2 million.

But the positive story of the year in US physical music retail was the ‘non-traditional’ outlets – including direct-to-fan sales, CD purchases at gigs and internet retailers such as Amazon.

Their sales of physical albums increased by 5.2% to 38.5m units – meaning they are now a bigger category for overall music purchases than the chain stores


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