Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Old Records Outselling New Records"

according to LA Weekly's Chris Kornelis

Hey, I predicted that in Retromania!  Or rather, speculated about it as a possible future scenario, extrapolating from current trends (i.e. where things were at in 2009-2010).

Judging by Kornelis's piece, it's happened much quicker than I imagined: 

"The first six months of the year saw sales of 76.6 million catalog records -- industry-speak for albums released more than 18 months ago -- compared to 73.9 million current albums"

According to Nielsen Soundscan-watcher David Bakula, this has happened because of two factors:
"not having the big blockbuster new releases in the first half, and having very, very strong catalog".
The latter category includes Guns N' Roses' Greatest Hits and  four Whitney Houston albums.

Admittedly, the past has an advantage over the present, because catalogue LP and greatest hits collections are generally budget-priced, compared with full-price new releases. In penny-pinching times, that will incline punters to avoid new albums, or just opt for the track rather than take a punt on the whole LP (see the 10-fold disparity between the five million who downloaded "Somebody I Used To Know" versus the half-million who bought the Gotye album).

It could also be that the kind of people who still bother to buy music at all (either as physical CDs or legal downloads) are older, and thus skew away from buying new releases in favour of familiar favourites.


update: Maura Johnston at Village Voice has further thoughts on this topic:

1. Radio and other mass outlets are becoming way more conservative and focusing more on the past.  She notes that places like Target  give prominent display space to greatest-hits collections, big albums from established stars, while new releases get "comparatively puny" exposure. And radio, as

explained by Kornelis in a piece for the Seattle Weekly , is "becoming more cautious with their playlists because of the Personal People Meter, Nielsen's new device for measuring ratings. Its data shows that people are more likely to switch channels when unfamiliar songs come on; the incentive to play new songs is, therefore, diminished from a business-side perspective."

2. The design of digital-music stores encourages people to stick with the familiar. "What with "personalization," spotlighting of the already-popular in order to assist people who might be interested in checking out that Adele lady, and having to cram a lot of information about new releases into a small space... finding truly new music is a tough row for people who aren't completely immersed in music....  Incentives like Amazon's crazy-deep discounting of certain releases only encourage this type of cocooning".

3. News has more of an effect on album sales than almost any music-centric promotional outlet these days. "Two of the five top catalog albums of 2012's first six months had Whitney Houston, who died in February, at their core; her greatest-hits collection sold 818,000 copies, making it the fourth-best-selling album of the year so far (behind Adele, Lionel Richie, and One Direction), and the soundtrack to The Bodyguard sold 202,000 copies....  just look at how record sales for Richie's new album Tuskegee, which is itself a record full of him remaking his old hits with current country stars, were boosted by a special reminding people of its existence airing on broadcast TV"

Maura also points out that Adele's 21, which is 2012's best-selling album even though it came out in 2011, has just flipped over into the "catalogue" category (18 months since release, which in its case was Jan 11 last year). That means that as it continues to sell and sell, the catalogue > current effect will only get worse during the second half of 2012.