The music industry has got itself into a tizzy of excitement about figures showing that global sales rose last year for the first time since 1999. To be specific, they went up 0.3 per cent. Excuse me if I don’t break out the bunting.
Let’s get real, here. We are not talking about an actual increase on 1999’s figures. Recorded music sales have shrunk by 40 per cent since the turn of the millennium, from $27.8bn in 1999 to $16.5 billion in 2012. And that is before you adjust for inflation, which tends to make everything look even worse.
Sales revenues are up a tiny bit on the year before, boosted (according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, whose figures these are) by downloads, subscription and other digital services. Indeed, we are almost, but not quite, back to 2010 levels (when sales reached $16.8 billion). So when the chief executive of Sony Music Entertainment tries to spin this incremental increase into a line about how “Digital is saving music”, what he really means is, it’s bottomed out folks, and maybe the worst is over.
I think that might be a little optimistic. Last year, the music industry was still benefiting from the Adele factor. She sold 8.3 million copies of an album that actually came out in 2011 (and had already shifted 15.3 million). You cannot count on that kind of superstar bounce every year.
Nonetheless, the music industry has always been pretty good at the mass marketing of star brands. Out in the margins, things still feel really, really tough. Record companies are signing fewer acts, and employing fewer staff to promote them on shrinking budgets. Everything feels squeezed and pinched.
The impact of HMV’s bankruptcy in the UK has not really been felt yet but it is worth noting that, following last week’s Brits show, with 6.4 million television viewers, the UK album market actually experienced a sales drop of 15 per cent. And judging by her Oscar acceptance speech, Adele’s not going to be swooping back to the rescue any time soon.
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