A familiar music biz tune: Album sales down, digital tracks up

Todd Martens
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — New albums from superstar artists Justin Bieber, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Nicki Minaj haven’t helped the music business get back in tune with consumers’ wallets, at least when it comes to album sales. Mid-year Nielsen SoundScan results released Thursday show that album sales thus far in 2012 trail those of the same period last year by 3 percent. What’s more, the top-selling album of 2012 is Adele’s “21,” an effort that was released way back in January 2011.

Sales of individual songs, however, remains a bright spot. Digital tracks are up 6 percent thus far this year compared with the same period in 2011. The top-selling track of the year is Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” featuring Kimbra, according to industry trade Billboard, which compiles the U.S. charts and unveiled some of SoundScan’s mid-year data on Wednesday.

The dip in album sales this year is a return to business as usual for the music industry. Last year was the first time album sales registered an increase since 2004, and it was a small one at just 1 percent. Sales of digital songs, meanwhile, ended 2011 up more than 8 percent, a trend that has continued into this year. Overall, 150.46 million albums have been sold in 2012 thus far; at this point last year, consumers had purchased 155.46 million albums.

Adele’s “21” has sold 3.69 million copies this year, buoyed by her success at the Grammy Awards and return to the performing stage after undergoing vocal surgery last year. All told, “21” has sold more than 9.4 million copies since its 2011 release, and finished 2011 as the year’s bestseller with a final tally of more than 5.8 million. It’s quite possible, reports Billboard, that “21” will be the top-selling album two years in row, which would be the first time an album has accomplished that feat since SoundScan began compiling data in 1991.

Adele’s “21” is the only album in 2012 to have broken the million-sales barrier. Significantly behind Adele is Lionel Richie’s country makeover “Tuskegee,” which has sold 912,000 copies. In the No. 3 spot is British boy-band sensation One Direction, whose debut, “Up All Night,” has sold 899,000.

While the second half of the year typically brings a flurry of A-list releases, the early forecast for a rebound in album sales is cloudy at best. So far, 11 albums in 2012 have sold at least 500,000 copies. That’s down heavily from this point last year, when 16 different albums had sold at least a half a million copies.

The pace has also slowed for digital tracks, albeit less dramatically. Thus far in 2012, 47 songs have sold at least a million downloads. Last year at this point, 52 had crossed the seven-figure mark.

Still, Gotye’s runaway hit, which was released in late 2011, has become the first digital track to sell more than 5 million downloads in the first six months of a calendar year. “Somebody That I Used to Know” has sold 5.5 million thus far this year.

The runner-up song is “We Are Young” from the capitalization-averse group, fun. The title has sold 5.09 million downloads. In third place is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” which has sold more than 4 million downloads.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.