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Classicalite Recording News: U.S. Digital Sales Down While U.K. Up, Old and New(er) Tech Both on the Rise

By James Inverne j.inverne@classicalite.com on Jan 08, 2014 03:00 PM EST

Classical Music magazine details the latest reports from the U.S. and U.K. classical music recording trends. Based on figures released by Nielsen SoundScan and by the British Phonographic Institute (BPI, the U.K.'s trade body) and the Official Charts Company, the big news is that digital music downloads have a down arrow by them for the first time ever in the United States, while continuing to grow across the pond, and that the monster that is streaming is getting fatter.

So, the figures. Digital track sales fell in the U.S. by five per cent to 1.26 billion, but in the U.K. grew by 6.8 per cent to 32.6 million. Why the difference? Could be the old thing of the U.K. lagging behind U.S. patterns by a year or two, so that while the Americans have reached a plateau, at least for now, Brits have yet to get there. But there's also the cultural shift to streaming and that, too, is more advanced in the U.S. (as arguably is digital radio for that matter). The magazine reports that Spotify and Deezer and other streaming services, breezed past £100 million in premium (i.e. paid-for) subscriptions. That is one-tenth of the recorded music market in the U.K., not counting ancillary benefits of advertising on YouTube and so on. That part of the story is thought to be similar in the U.S.

I wonder though whether a reaction against digital--or rather in favor of creative packaging and presentation in physical product--has also become so widespread as to have an impact on digital sales. If you view luxury products such as, say, Jordi Savall's beautiful book-style CD packages for his Alia Vox label, or indeed the resurgence of vinyl in this light, there is perhaps an overarching picture that emerges. Although we're a long way from vinyl's return as a mainstream format, sales of old-fashioned records were up to six million in the U.S. (they were at 4.55 million the previous year) and 780,000 in the U.K., more than double 2012's total.

So, what is the answer? What is the future? Streaming clearly is a big area, but by the same token, some artists have been complaining about not getting much return and, in some cases, even pulling their recordings. That's perhaps less of a problem in classical than in pop, as classical sales are lower and many artists have become accustomed to treating recordings as a marketing expense (a mindset which, itself, is arguably a big problem for the classical industry, which needs to find ways to make recordings profitable for most artists again). But the rise in vinyl and some trends in CD sales point to one word: creativity. The model is the model, the format is the format. But the creative experience, that people might actually pay for.

Oh, by the way, I was tickled to see that the compilation album Now That's What I Call Music 86 was the year's highest seller. I think I still have Now 10 somewhere...on tape.

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TagsClassicalite Recording News, Classical Music Magazine, classical recordings, BPI, Nielsen SoundScan, vinyl, digital downloads, Jordi Savall, Spotify, Now that's what I call music