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Album sales down again, music streaming rises

LOS ANGELES — Streaming continued to be the big story in music consumption last year, as sales in both physical and digital formats experienced ongoing flattening, year-end figures from Nielsen Music showed. Breaking out the year’s strongest numbers, David Bakula, Nielsen Entertainment senior vice-president of industry insights said: “Digital music consumption continues its robust growth, with on-demand streaming up 54 per cent over the course of last year and 164 billion song streams being played by music consumers in the same year. Although overall music sales are showing declines, vinyl album sales were up 52 per cent in 2014, shattering last year’s record-setting total by more than three million LPs. In 2014, vinyl album sales accounted for more than 6 per cent of all physical album sales.”

Smartphone with music player interface

Smartphone with music player interface

LOS ANGELES — Streaming continued to be the big story in music consumption last year, as sales in both physical and digital formats experienced ongoing flattening, year-end figures from Nielsen Music showed. Breaking out the year’s strongest numbers, David Bakula, Nielsen Entertainment senior vice-president of industry insights said: “Digital music consumption continues its robust growth, with on-demand streaming up 54 per cent over the course of last year and 164 billion song streams being played by music consumers in the same year. Although overall music sales are showing declines, vinyl album sales were up 52 per cent in 2014, shattering last year’s record-setting total by more than three million LPs. In 2014, vinyl album sales accounted for more than 6 per cent of all physical album sales.”

On the digital album front, Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Disney’s Frozen soundtrack were the only titles to move more than one million units, shifting 1.41 million and 1.26 million, respectively. The steep decline in digital song sales was reflected in the fact that only one track sold more than five million units in the year: Pharrell Williams’ Happy, which tracked 6.45 million units. In 2013, three songs passed the five million mark: Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Thrift Shop and Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive.

The continuing change in the way Americans consume music was reflected in Nielsen Music’s decision late last year to reconfigure its weekly ranking of the nation’s top albums by compiling data comprising streams, physical sales and so-called “track equivalent” digital albums. Since its initiation of music tracking in 1991, the metrics firm’s SoundScan unit has used physical album scans to formulate its chart.

Streaming was the most important slice of the music-growth pie, with a big year-over-year gain above 2013, when streams increased 32 per cent to 118.1 billion units. Album sales saw the largest lift since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales and showed year-over-year growth for the ninth consecutive year. However, as Bakula noted, vinyl albums still claim only a small percentage of music sales; the format had been entirely supplanted by the compact disc when Nielsen started.

In the big picture, consumers continued to take to their computers and mobile phones, as the purchase of music in both physical and digital form predictably slumped for yet another year. Total album sales (including CDs, cassettes, LPs and digital albums) slipped another 9 per cent to 257 million, down from 289.4 million in 2013. Digital albums witnessed a 9 per cent drop last year, to 117.6 million, after a flat performance of 118 million the preceding year.

As previously reported, Taylor Swift’s big fourth-quarter pop hit 1989 was the year’s biggest-selling release at 3.66 million, wresting the crown from Frozen (3.53 million) in the last week of the year. Just two other albums sold in excess of one million during the year: British pop singer Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (1.21 million) and a cappella act Pentatonix’s Yule package That’s Christmas To Me (almost 1.14 million). Interestingly, three of the year’s bestselling albums — Frozen, Beyonce’s self-titled release and Lorde’s Pure Heroine — were originally issued in 2013. REUTERS

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