Even Adele can’t stop ‘old’ albums outselling new artist releases


2015 was a historic moment in the history of the LP in the United States, but not one that will delight many A&R executives.

It was the first year in living memory in which catalogue album sales overtook those of ‘current’ releases.

According to Nielsen data, catalogue albums – which it defines as any release over 18 months old – shifted 122.8m copies in 2015 in the US, down 2.9% on 2014’s tally of 126.5m.

Current album sales, however, dropped by an even more hurtful 9.2%– down from 130.5m to 118.5m.

Just look at the decline in the green bar below to see how the balance of power has shifted.


Interesting to think that Adele’s 25 contributed 7.44m of those 118.5m ‘current’ album sales – 6.3% of the total.

Without her, catalogue albums would have been 11.7m sales clear of their modern day counterparts.

Quite amazing to think that ten years before, ‘current’ albums outsold classic releases by 150m units.

(Just to be clear, we’re talking only about real album sales here, across physical and digital – not the smooshing together of individual streams and downloads to make ‘stream/download equivalent albums’.)

The biggest factor in catalogue’s overtaking of new albums in 2015 was physical LP sales.

According to Nielsen, 71.2m catalogue albums were sold across CD and vinyl in the year – down 2.7% – while 65.8m non-digital current albums were shifted.

As you can see, this was another historic milestone for the album format.


In terms of digital album sales, current albums were still slightly out ahead in 2015.

Current digital album sales (predominantly on iTunes) were down 2.5% in 2015 to 52.5m, while catalogue sales dropped by a steeper 3.4% to 50.9m.

(Nielsen appears to have revised last year’s figures, which initially showed digital catalogue albums ahead of current sales.)

Yet in terms of digital track downloads, catalogue was king once again.

Catalogue tracks sold 484.9m in total in the US in 2015, according to Nielsen – down 14.9%.

However, this was still ahead of the tally for tracks released in the previous 18 months, which fell 10% to 479.8m.

Nielsen didn’t give catalogue vs. current figures for streaming platforms.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 08.13.18

You can forget the idea that ‘albums are becoming irrelevant anyway’.

According to RIAA data for the first half of 2015 (we’re waiting on the full year stats), 48.7% of the US recorded music market’s total income came from CDs, vinyl and digital albums combined.

(This figure doesn’t include income from SoundExchange / digital radio. Even when you fold it in, however, albums still accounted for 42.4% of total revenue.)



The list of biggest selling vinyl albums in the year was replete with plenty of catalogue releases – but not at the very top.

Adele’s 25 was the most popular vinyl release of the year with 116,000 sales, followed by Taylor Swift’s 1989 on 74,000 sales.

The biggest catalogue album was at No.3: Pink Floy’d Dark Side Of The Moon, with 50,000 sales, followed by The Beatles’ Abbey Road (No.4, 49.8k sales) and Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue (No.5, 49k sales).

You can download the full Nielsen Music 360 report through here.Music Business Worldwide

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  • magnolia

    A 25 year myopic frenzy of focussing on those A&R Managers whose skills are devising FMCG Pop moments or engineering transitory faux-zeitgeist hipster scenes, has led to this situation. The public now know that they can’t trust the ‘new’ but they do have continuing faith in the ‘old’. It is the same story on the major Festival circuit. Corporatisation, globalisation, marketing techniques, analytics, quantise buttons and auto tune plug ins…….none of these can make up for skilled musicians and songwriters with artistry and imagination. x

    • tdjames

      what you on about? that got nothing do with can’t trust the new and have faith in all and autotune .I’ts just simply the music industry has changed to the market online as simply as that and free services etc.

      That sort of having a go a new artist fabrication is just simply getting old now..!

    • samuelbreen


  • phil herzog

    Great article, great data.

    My take for the past 18 months: most tenured A & R executives (and labels) are in a time warp in the way they size up current talent and the genres (not) that they refuse to be defined by. My advice is A&Rick execs: trade in the polyester suit or give it directly to the cool new artist who sees and hears the next new sounds and genre bending tunes on the horizon where that crazy plaid suit actually becomes over the top hip…because they are wearing it, not you.

    • David Mack

      tell him keep the suit, just want the job

  • Jason Hogan

    Adele? lol Sade is a better singer than Adele.

    • KingRichard22

      Subjective.. lol

      • Same Old

        Sandy Denny…. no contest

  • Same Old

    Bloody hell! Good music sells shit music doesn’t..well blow me