Aug 15

Written FrankWells.
8/15/2011 9:55 AM  RssIcon

imgNumbers tracking the sales of recordings are in for 2010. Unsurprisingly, the trends from the past decade continue. You know the litany by now.

According to the statistics from the RIAA, sales of CDs are down (continuing the annual double-digit percentages lost of the past several years—down nearly 23 percent in units sold this year; 225 million units sold, and that’s less than 25 percent of the peak of the format’s popularity in 2000).

Growth in physical media sales was in the niches—CD single sales were up somewhat (but only amounting to an increase of 300,000 units out of a total of 1.2 million). Vinyl singles declined in numbers, while vinyl LP sales grew (significant growth of near 26 percent, but the total units sold are only 4 million—a notable niche, but still a niche). In the age of YouTube, music video sales are off some 11 percent.

The familiar summation is that purchases of downloaded media continue to rise, but not at a rate that comes close to offsetting the losses in physical media sales. Overall digital media sales are up (singles and albums both have single-digit percentage growth though downloaded music videos, and ringtones are down double digits), while music subscriptions were also down.

A report from the IFPI reveals that these trends continue to be global. From 2004-10, IFPI reports a 1,000+ percent increase in the digital (downloaded or streamed) music market, against a 31 percent loss in the total value of the global recorded music market. New releases are not fairing as well as in the past—the IFPI reports that top 50 debut-album unit sales are down 77 percent from 2003-10. The same report says the number of individuals employed as musicians in the U.S. has fallen 17 percent between 1999 and 2009, while the global top 50 tours took in 12 percent less revenue in 2010. In Europe, the IFPI predicts a total of 1.2 million in jobs lost in the creative industries by 2015.

If there’s a bright spot in the RIAA report, it’s that digital performance royalties are up in the U.S. some 60.3 percent to nearly $250 million in 2010. That means more money in the system to pay for production, though the gains are a drop in the bucket against overall industry losses.

These numbers do not reflect much of the indie music scene that does not participate solely, when at all, in the traditional mass distribution scheme. While overall there’s only anecdotal evidence as to the health of that market segment, the digital media measurement service BigChampagne has launched its “Ultimate Chart” this year, which combines online sales data with “buzz” criteria (YouTube tracking along with social media mentions of music), streaming media statistics and even illegal download metrics to try and quantify to some degree the popularity of music in and outside the traditional-sales-only-based measurement models. According to a recent study by BigChampagne, unauthorized downloads now represent as much as 90 percent of the recorded music market.

This all boils down to what the audio production community already knew: Less money is entering the music production system. Commercial-based streaming services are growing; Pandora has turned a profit, and buzz-worthy services are gaining ground in what appears to be a cloud-based future. Ownership of a limited pool of recorded music (and film and television programming) seems destined to be replaced by access to a greater pool of available material online. There’s a lot of innovation still to come in this space, and inevitable shakeout among the pioneering companies.

It’s all quite fascinating to watch, if unsettling to live with, from the perspective of our industry’s health.

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