The music industry faced a tough year in 2008, with economic hardships curtailing consumers’ willingness to spend money even on comparatively inexpensive luxuries like music. According to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks retail sales data, U.S. music album sales were down 14 percent in 2008 to 428.4 million units. And while the market for digital music downloads is still growing, it’s not expanding as fast as it was during 2007: sales of digital music tracks grew 27 percent for 1.07 billion units, and digital album sales rose 32 percent to 65.8 million units. In 2007, sales of digital singles rose 45 percent, and sales of digital albums rose 53 percent.
The figures closely parallel recent data from the NPD Group, which also found that consumers bought fewer CDs in 2008, and digital downloads didn’t make up the difference.
The figures mark a new low for physical album sales, which also dropped 15 percent during 2007. Album sales hit what is now likely to be an all-time high of 785.1 million units in 2000; 2008’s sales represent just 54.6 percent of that total.
The high-margin ringtone business also saw a decline in 2007, with sales dropping by 33 percent from 2007 levels to 43.8 million.
Taken all together—albums, singles, music videos, ringtones, and digital songs and albums—the number of units the music industry sold in 2008 actually includes 10.5 percent in 2008 to 1.5 billion units. But even that number represents a decline: overall unit sales were up 14 percent in 2007, and 19 percent in 2006.
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