Music Industry

Here’s How Far Physical Music Sales Have Fallen

The chart week–the period of time when music sales and streams are monitored on a weekly basis–runs from 12:00 AM Friday to 11:59 PM the following Thursday. Come Monday or Tuesday, I get the sales and streaming stats from the previous week.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been watching sales numbers for albums slip week after week after week. Back in the 90s, Our Lady Peace could release an album and see it sell 20,000 copies a week for months on end. Not anymore.

Looking at this week’s Canadian charts, P!nk is the only clear winner, selling nearly 60,000 copies of her Beautiful Trauma album, an amazing accomplishment in this day and age. But then we look at the #2 album in the country, Beck’s Colors. In its debut week, it sold just 3,800 units across the country. It was possible to squeak into the Canadian Top 10 by moving just 1,800 records.

And it gets worse. To make it into the Top 200, all you had to do was convince 110 people in a nation of 36 million to buy your record.

Let’s take a look at the US SoundScan charts. Again, P!nk is rightfully celebrating having sold 384,196 records. That number has to do with CDs, vinyl records and digital downloads and nothing at all to do with streaming. It’s a nice number.

But that’s where the good news ends. Beck is sitting at #2 having sold 41,000 copies of Colors. St. Vincent’s Masseduction is third with 25,000 units. A slot in the Top 10 required just 9,700 copies. And it was possible to make the US Top 200 by selling just 916 records. Wow, huh?

Let’s look at some other American numbers.

After 17 weeks on the charts, the Imagine Dragons have sold 286,000 copies of Evolve whereas, in the old days, a band of that stature would have gone platinum by now.

Today, there are just seven million-plus sellers on the charts and only one of those has sold more than two million copies.(That honour belongs to Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, which is sold 2.09 million after 128 weeks. That’s nearly three years.)

After 78 weeks on the charts, Beyonce’ Lemonade has sold just 1.7 million copies. Despite all the hype, Katy Perry’s Witness has moved just 256,000. And even though Queens of the Stone Age have earned all kinds of love and radio airplay for Villains, the current sales number stands at 105,000 after eight weeks, about a third less than the Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold (164,000 copies after five weeks.)

Artists cannot survive on selling pieces of plastic anymore. And until streaming revenues come up, all the money is going to come from live performances. Times they are a-changin’.

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.

Alan Cross has 38430 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Here’s How Far Physical Music Sales Have Fallen

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.