Annual CD Sales Slide Resumes; Down 8% for ’05

We’ve broadly discussed the recording industry this year. How’d they do in terms of numbers?

After a slight blip up in 2004, CD sales resumed their prior slide. Sales were off 7% (CD albums only) or 8% (CDs and singles). The decrease is comparable to the decline in Movie theater attendance, which fell about 7%.

Reported Album sales (January through the week ending
December 25) were 602.2 million in 2005; weaker than last year’s 650.8 million. Digital singles sales more than doubled to 332 million — a 148% increase.

Some blamed the Album CD sales slump on the cherry-picking of singles by a fickle public. But the broader analysis reveals that CDs are a format in decline. While 95% of music sales are still in the CD format, there are plenty of signs this is changing. In addition to the different fortunes of the two formats — CDs are slumping while digitial downloads skyrocket — the industry itself is changing. A new breed of music label is distributing their product strictly in digital format, thereby bypassing CDs entirely. See Cordless Recordings as an example of this.

This year’s biggest sellers, according to Nielsen SoundScan, were Mariah Carey’s Emancipation of Mimi at 4.866 million; In second place was 50 Cent’s The Massacre, which sold 4.834 million. "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway finished 3rd, selling 3.4 million copies. The top sales position has not been occupied by a female solo artist since Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in 1996. In 2005, female solo artists captured the gold and the bronze.

Although the major labels lament the internet, P2P, and file sharing, it turns out that the Net has been a boon for Indie Labels. Much of the industry’s complaints are actually about disintermediation — the web forces them out of the relationship between the artists and their fans. The indies understand this, and have been using the net to promote their unknown artists.   

While sales here, in the UK sales continue to do better than in the U.S. — despite Great Britain’s widespread adoption of broadband. Credit likely goes to the wider playlists in UK radio, and a payola-free radio industry. Britain does not have the same concentrated private ownership of Radio Stations which have become so prevalent in the U.S. since the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act, which enabled firms like Clearchannel and Infinity to scoop up 1,000s of stations.

Its no coincidence that music sales problems can be traced to what occurred following that legislation’s enactment.

While legal Music downloads more than doubled this year, so too has the recording industry’s misconduct. After settling Price fixing charges in 2002, it appears that the recording industry brain trust is at it again: An industrywide probe into how much record companies charge for digital music was started by NYAG Eliot Spitzer; subpoenas have gone out to several labels.


One last astonishing piece of music trivia: Mariah Carey’s CD spawned her 17th #1
single, "Don’t Forget About Us." This places her in second place on the
all time #1 hit list — behind the Beatles’ total 20 #1 hits. If Carey
manages to pass the Fab Four, I will interpret this as incontrovertible proof that life is meaningless or God is dead . . . I haven’t decided which.

Finally, you can see my Anti-"Best of 2005" here.

UPDATE January 3, 2006 6:09am

It turns out that the British are the ‘world’s biggest music buyers.’  According to figures released by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) early 2005, the UK music industry recorded an overall 3% increase in volume sales, mostly due to its robust albums market.

The British buy the most compact discs in the world – an average of 3.2 per year, compared to 2.8 in the US and 2.1 in France.


Silent Night for Music Sales
Holiday Buyers Spurn Tunes As Industry Picture Worsens; ‘Cesspool of Really Bad Bands’
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, December 16, 2005; Page B1

UK ‘world’s biggest music buyer’
BBC, Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 12:25 GMT

The extensive list of sources used in this posting can be found below


Mariah Carey Outguns 50 Cent On Year-End LP Sales Chart
Gil Kaufman
MTV, 12.29.2005 12:15 PM EST

US CD album sales show 7% slide   
BBC, Thursday, 29 December 2005, 10:00 GMT

Album sales down thanks to customers cherry-picking songs
Anders Bylund
Ars Technica, 12/29/2005 1:26:08 PM,

Music label forsakes CDs
Cost-cutting firm’s young fans are online
Associated Press  |  December 27, 2005

The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels
NYT, December 27, 2005

UK Record sales are kept in tune thanks to the over 50s
Newsquest (Herald & Times) Limited

Warner Music Gets Subpoena on Song-Download Pricing
Ian King in San Francisco at
Bloomberg, December 23, 2005 18:41 EST

Pricing of Music Downloads Is Probed
Warner Music discloses a subpoena by New York’s Spitzer in an industrywide inquiry.

Charles Duhigg
LA Times, December 24, 2005,0,3015790.story

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. royce commented on Dec 30

    No doubt the sale drop will be blamed on downloaders, but when Mariah Carey, Fiddy-boy and Ms. American Idol have the top albums, you know the content has reached a discouraging level of suckiness not attained since disco ruled in the 1970s. Even for a music industry known for heavily processed cheese, this year is bad. It’s like beyond cheese. We’re in the Velveeta period of pop music.

    I’m listening to classical from now on.

  2. John Navin commented on Dec 30

    Mariah had the benefit of being married to Tommy Motolla, of course, a gentleman who knows how to promote an artist.

    I actually miss the r&b music of the 70’s: Kool and the Gang, KC & the Sunshine Band, the Ohio Players…you had to get up off of your ass and dance. You just had to.

  3. greyhair commented on Dec 30

    Care to corrolate the advent of Napster (and the decline of Napster) on your chart?

  4. David Silb commented on Dec 30

    Oo! Oo! (hand raised energenically) I vote “Meaningless.”

    Barry good article once again you are the man.

  5. Jan commented on Dec 30

    “incontrovertible proof that life is meaningless or God is dead . . .” LOL! Couldn’t agree with you more!

    Thanks for all the great analysis the past 12 months. Happy New Year!

  6. me commented on Dec 30

    As far as price fixing, what ever happened to those “under $10 CDs” we were told to expect from “competition”?

    I listen to most CDs on my PC and the more they put copy protection on and the CDs hiss and pop, I appreciate great music and those sound worse than the MP3s. After Sony hacking people’s PCs it is a wonder they can sell anything.

    Better music would help their cause as well. I just watched the Cream DVD and it is amazing how “good” is still good and the new stuff just doesn’t get it.

  7. Anon Y. Mouse commented on Dec 30

    “If Carey manages to pass the Fab Four, I will interpret this as incontrovertible proof
    that life is meaningless or God is dead . . . I haven’t decided which.”

    Naw… it just means that the number of #1 hits
    is meaningless.

  8. Lord commented on Dec 30

    Meaningless, other than the one we give it.

  9. aaron commented on Jan 3

    How do CD prices in Britian compare to the US? And disposable income?

  10. Satisfy Me commented on Feb 25

    Digital Music Sales: Over One Billion Served

    The Apple’s iTunes Music Store: the one billionth iTunes song was purchased and downloaded this…

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