Actually, album sales are doing fine in America… so long as you’re not iTunes, Walmart or Target

One of MBW’s most popular articles this week has regarded the ‘Sad collapse of the album in America’.

If you’re an LP fan – and considering they’re still the industry’s most lucrative product, you probably are – the stats make for depressing reading: according to Nielsen Soundscan data, full-year LP sales in the US across all formats dropped by a shocking 61.5% between 2004 and 2014 – from 667m all the way down to 257m.

But now Nielsen has released its in-depth report about 2014 in the States. And it appears the album might not be completely doomed after all – so long as it’s not being sold in a massive retailer like Wal-Mart.

Independent stores and ‘non-traditional’ retailers? They’re doing just fine.

Total album sales in the States dropped by 11.2% to 257m in 2014. Digital album downloads – a market which is dominated by iTunes – dropped 9.4% to 106.5m.

But it’s in the physical world where things get interesting. Vinyl LP sales had a stormer, but to no great effect on the wider market –  up 51.8% to 9.2m.

And on paper, CD sales had a howler, falling 15% from 165.4m to 140.8m; the biggest format hurting by the biggest amount.

But to really get an accurate picture of physical album sales, it’s important to understand where CD’s decline is taking place – because it ain’t Rough Trade New York.


According to Nielsen, physical album sales in chain stores across America were slashed by a fifth in 2014 – plummeting by a massive 20.6%, from 39.1m to 31m.

Meanwhile, ‘mass merchant‘ stores – like Walmart and Target – suffered a similar fall, with album sales crashing 19.3% from 77.9m to 62.9m.

Between them, these two types of retailer alone saw 23.1m album sales wiped off their bottom line in 2014 – making their tills almost entirely culpable for America’s annual decline in CD sales.

As for independent US music stores, their year in album sales was flat – down just 0.5% in unit terms to 18.2 million.

But the positive story of the year in US physical music retail was the ‘non-traditional’ outlets – including direct-to-fan sales, CD purchases at gigs and internet retailers such as Amazon.

Their sales of physical albums increased by 5.2% to 38.5m units – meaning they are now a bigger category for overall music purchases than the chain stores.Music Business Worldwide

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