by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
By now we’ve all seen the Facebook posts that point to articles declaring that not a single album has sold more than a million copies so far this year. The Forbes‘ version doesn’t point any fingers. Instead, it’s usual the person who posted the article that blames streaming (i.e. Spotify) for the downward sales spiral.
First off, it’s only October. We’ve got the entire Christmas season ahead of us. Second of all, the authors seem to forget that Taylor Swift has a record on deck to be released this year. Swift’s latest LP, 1989, will most certainly go platinum in 2014.
But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that a flavor-of-the-month pop act hasn’t moved a million copies of their bland-ola music to the great unwashed? Who cares if Beyonce only sold 3/4 of a million copies instead of a million? Does it matter that Adele hasn’t pulled the industry out of its perceived “slump” by releasing an album this year? What does any of this have to do with people who like good music or to your run-of-the-mill indie band? Do mid-sized indie labels care?
The only people who might be shaking in their boots are folks who run record stores, say someone like Mike Fratt, the general manager of Homer’s. So I asked Fratt if the lack of a million seller so far this year matters.
“Does it matter? Well, for online journalists who are all digital, maybe it’s some kind of victory in their ever-present need to bash physical music,” Fratt said. “We’ve been hearing for 15 years that record stores will go out of business. Tired narrative.”
Fratt reiterated that a couple late-2013 releases will likely end up selling a million copies before year’s end. He also pointed to the Swift album, Lorde’s latest, Luke Bryan and Sam Smith releases as possible platinum contenders.
Instead of dwelling on the dark side, Fratt pointed to the continued resurgence of vinyl.
“Vinyl is likely to (sell) over 10 million units this year,” Fratt said. “After a new reporting service to rival Soundscan finally debuts late this year or early next year, we’ll find out vinyl is actually closer to 15 million units annually as Soundscan only pulls data from 61 indie stores. 61! Look at the Record Store Day web site. There are 1,200 listed.”
Fratt said overall business is down 13 percent, but indie stores are only down 2 percent. “The real number is indies are up 2 percent,” he said. “Heck, even our CD biz is up this year.”
Indie sector market share is growing as well, up from 9 percent from a decade ago to 13.5 percent today, Fratt said, and more likely somewhere around 17 percent.
So what about those who say streaming is killing the music business? Fratt said sales of digital downloads are feeling the brunt of the Spotify effect.
“Digital is struggling as more adopt streaming,” Fratt said. “Streaming, as you have written, is the new radio. Data supports that heavy streamers are also very active buyers of physical. We see it every day. But, just like vibrant radio from the ’70s caused many not to buy music because they could listen every day, there is a quantity of streamers that only stream. Those that subscribe, pay for streaming, are even more active purchasers.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve purchased more music so far this year than any post-CD era year, and almost all of it is on vinyl. The packaging, the experience of vinyl albums are special to me, and I believe that’s the case for most serious music fans.
Does that mean that vinyl is the cavalry that will save the industry? No. But I believe there always will be a market for music and music-related “hard assets,” such as vinyl and CDs, if only to support the “collectors market.” People who buy Taylor Swift or Adele records aren’t part of that collectors market, and I have no doubt that if it wasn’t this year that it would be 2016 (Adele’s new one comes out in 2015) when we finally go without a having platinum-selling record by a vanilla-flavored pop star. And it won’t make a bit of difference to anyone.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
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