2009 was a decently strong year for music—as long as you look at digital online sales and ignore the sinking ship that represents physical CDs. The US numbers are in from Nielsen SoundScan, and they are mostly a less-extreme version of the 2008 numbers, due in no small part to the struggling US economy. Still, the sales of physical media was way down while online media was way up, though vinyl enthusiasts are still bent on keeping their little niche alive—and are largely succeeding at it.
According to Nielsen’s numbers for 2009, overall music sales were up a very modest 2.1 percent over 2008—this is a far cry from the 10.5 percent growth between 2007 and 2008, but growth nonetheless. When you split the numbers out, though, they are much more telling: music lovers bought nearly 1.16 billion digital tracks in 2009 (up 8.3 percent from 2008), and 76.4 million online digital albums (up 16.1 percent).
Physical albums, on the other hand, did not fare so well. They decreased by an average of 17.4 percent year-over-year (down 20.7 percent for current albums and 14.1 percent for catalog albums):
Once again, a shocker from Nielsen’s 2009 numbers came in the form of vinyl sales, which were up 33 percent last year. (For comparison’s sake, however, vinyl sales grew by a whopping 89 percent between 2007 and 2008.) With 2.5 million vinyl units sold in 2009, Nielsen still said that more albums were sold than any other year in history(keeping in mind that SoundScan’s history only goes back to 1991, a few years after the advent of the CD). The firm attributed this growth to household names like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Bob Dylan, but also said that indie artists were making a vinyl comeback. “Also notable is the fact that two out of every three vinyl albums were purchased at an independent music store,” Nielsen said.
Vinyl’s mysterious growth isn’t enough to offset the tank in other physical sales, however—33 times a very small number is still a very small number. When combining all physical media with all online media, album sales were still down by a sad 12.7 percent year over year.
Numerous artists have blamed online services like iTunes (and now Amazon MP3) for people’s changing tastes when it comes to cherry-picking songs, but 2009’s numbers make it clear that customers are willing to go the album route if they have motivation to do so. Singles are still king, but with digital albums up 16.1 percent (current digital albums are up 20 percent), the trend is looking better for artists looking to make more than just a buck at a time.