Unfortunately, in spite of slight growth in global music sales at the beginning of the year, numbers in the United States thus far in 2013 are dismal. It's no secret that album sales have been declining rapidly over the last decade, and the most recent Nielsen SoundScan reports indicate that this descent is not over yet, as year-to-date sales in the United States have plummeted even further.
The most alarming news is the state of weekly album sales. For the past five weeks, no single week has surpassed the 5 million sales mark, setting a record for lowest sales in Nielsen SoundScan's history. In the last two weeks alone, record lows have been reported for total sales in the country, with only 4.71 million sales for the week ending July 21st, and 4.68 million sales for the week ending July 28th. Since 2010, sales below 5 million in a given week have become more common: In 2010 this occurred four times, it happened just twice in 2011, and in 2012, three weeks were below 5 million sales. 2013 is only halfway through, and already there have been an astonishing nine weeks under 5 million sales.
Thus far, CD sales are the hardest hit, having dropped 14.1% from this time last year. Digital album sales are also starting to decline. In the first quarter of 2013, digital albums were up 10.4%, but they had slowed to just a 1.9% increase in the second quarter. The third quarter is only in four weeks, and digital album sales are actually down 0.9%. Catalog album sales have decreased by 8.8%.
In contrast to the plummeting sales, streaming revenue has increased in 2013. As Billboard points out, the success of streaming could be to blame for the lowering physical and now digital sales because people can now access an enormous library of music for free (or through a monthly subscription). There is less desire to buy the music, whether physical or digital. Streaming allows people to access music without needing to own it.
Until recently, analysts have denied that streaming has any negative effect on music sales. Some industry analysts are now questioning if streaming is cannibalizing sales, but studies thus far have been inconclusive.
Other theories to account for the declining sales identify poor release schedules - as well as simply fewer new albums - as the culprit. Summer has historically been a slower season for music sales, and generally fewer albums are purchased during this third quarter. (The first quarter suffers a similar problem.) Rather, artists are more likely to release albums in the fourth quarter when people tend to buy more.
While year-to-date sales are down, time will tell how 2013 fares compared to the past 15 years. Although 2012 saw the first growth since 1999, 2013 may not be as lucky.