Stereogum reports on a curious statistic from the record industry:
As of two weeks ago, old albums outsold new ones for the first time since Nielsen Soundscan started tracking U.S. album sales, back in 1991. The first half of 2012 brought sales of 76.6 million catalog albums (i.e, albums released more than 18 months ago) as opposed [to] 73.9 million current albums. Some of the best-selling catalog albums are fairly recent beasts that won’t go away (Adele’s 19, Taylor Swift’s Speak Now); some are ancient classics that should be carved into Mount Rushmore (Dark Side Of The Moon, Licensed To Ill).
The interesting aspect of this, to me anyway, is the idea that anything released over a year and a half ago is by definition no longer current.
James Furbush of the Sly Oyster, fascinated by these numbers, wonders:
Are younger people just resorting to streaming music on Spotify, illegally downloading it, or purchases directly from places like Bandcamp or Kickstarter?
I can’t speak for younger people, not having been such for many years, but I buy stuff from Bandcamp all the time — most recently this — and I’m pretty sure the SoundScan guys don’t pay any attention to it.
But the most-likely explanation for this phenomenon, I suggest, is that the singles culture that existed in the pre-Beatles era has clawed its way back. Used to be, you heard a track you liked, you went out and bought the 45, because you knew the album was likely to consist of two singles, the B-sides thereof, and half a dozen filler pieces — if the single was on the album at all, which it wasn’t always. Sinatra’s usually weren’t. A lot of acts never even got an album until they’d managed a hit single.
The Presleyterians complicated the matter. After “Heartbreak Hotel” broke big for Elvis, RCA Victor planned an album, which turned out to be part new filler material, part unreleased Sun stuff, and “Blue Suede Shoes” as the lead track. “Hotel” wasn’t on it. Furthermore, RCA got the bright idea of releasing the entire album as six simultaneous 45s, and on the same day a new single. Kids with meager budgets, which at the time were all of them, bought “Blue Suede Shoes,” bringing it up to #20, and ignored the other singles, including the new one, a cover of Jesse Stone’s formidable “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” The album eventually sold a million, because after all it was Elvis fercryingoutloud.
And now, of course, you can cherry-pick the tunes you want and leave the rest of the album tracks on the virtual shelf. Good for your collection; perhaps not so good for the guys compiling album-sales statistics.