Digital Song Sales Suck. I Mean, REALLY Suck.

Remember when we were told that the rise in sales of digital songs would eventually make up for the cratering of the CD? In fact, it was right about…now that everyone was supposed to be living happily ever after in a new digital utopia.

Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. Ever.

If you check the Billboard charts, you’ll see that the sales week ending August 27 was a disaster. Digital song sales were the lowest they’d been since late 2007. To be specific, 15,660,000 digital tracks were sold in the US last week. The report from December 9, 2007, showed sales of 15,640,000 tracks–and that was in an era when digital sales were headed up.

Another stat from last week: The top-selling digital track in the US was “Locked Away” by R. City, moving 90,000. That’s the lowest number for a top-selling #1 digital single in almost nine years. Wow.

So what’s the cause of this? Streaming.

Billboard also tracks how consumers are getting their music through streams. Going back to the sales week ending August 27, audio and video streams hit an all-time high with 6.6 billion.

Fine. So that’s the US. What about Canada?

The #1 song on the digital downloads chart is The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” with a paltry 15,000 purchases. It was possible to get on the Top 200 download chart in Canada by selling just 166 copies. Yes, ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SIX downloads in a country of 35 million.

I’ve also been watching the number of songs that stream more than a million times/week for months. For the first time (I think), eight songs achieved that level with two more songs just a few thousands listens below that. The top 1,000 songs were heard 117.4 million times, which, if I’m not mistaken (and please correct me if I’m wrong), is a record.

The move from possession to access continues. Yes, there will always be music we’ll want to own in either a physical or virtual way, but as for everything else, streaming will do just fine.

(With info from Digital Music News and Nielsen SoundScan Canada)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Digital Song Sales Suck. I Mean, REALLY Suck.

  • September 6, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Why the surprise? There has always always been a large percentage of *casual* music consumers who, in order to listen to music they like when and where they wanted as opposed to arbitrary listening on radio, had to purchase it (LPs for home, cassettes for Walkmans, files for iPods). That is no longer necessary. These listeners don’t *need* to purchase product anymore. Meanwhile, *active* music consumers, a much smaller percentage of all music consumers, will continue to acquire as they always have.


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