Yay! It’s time for another of our expeditions into the thrilling world of music industry stats! Yep you numbers nerds have got something to get all excited about whilst the rest of you can just skip on and read bump’s views on the deceased-ness of cassettes right below this geek-fest.
So what are we looking at today? Well a couple of weeks back the BPI released some analysis regarding sales of the top 10,000 albums in each year over the last decade or so. I thought 10,000 must be pretty much every album put out in a year but turns out that is only the top of the pile – there are many, many more. In any case the first point highlighted by the BPI was that the top 100 have consistently taken about 30% of all album sales each year, irrelevant of any other ups and downs of the album market. So no matter what else is going on the big albums of year (the ones that get into the weekly top 10) account for one in three albums bought in the UK. Clearly having a hit release has a huge impact on the mainstream consciousness – everyone wants your album.
There was less good news for the next segment down, the releases that fill up the rest of the top 40 each Sunday, the BPI were sad to report that the percentage of sales taken up by the top 500 was shrinking year on year, by between a half and one percent annually. So it’s okay if you’re Gaga, Perry or Buble but it’s looking a lot less rosy if you’re in the second or third division. Some people seemed keen to lament this and highlight it as yet more evidence for the death of the music industry yet I don’t think they’ve thought it through – it’s a zero sum game after all, if the sales aren’t going in the top 500 then they’re going somewhere else…
Indeed it turns out the sales are being picked up much less popular releases, ones not in the top 500 or even top 5000, but albums outside the top 10,000. Since 2000 the percentage of overall album sales taken by these releases has grown from 8.3% to 15.1%. That is very close to a doubling and in 2012 would have represented sales of around 15 million copies, though it’s very unlikely you or I have heard of many of them – they’re going to be from very small indie labels, local bands and producers in more obscure genres with many selling a few hundred or less.
Personally I think this is amazing and much more interesting than the shift in where the majors sales are going that the BPI reported. It shows that the internet, both as a discovery platform and as a way to release music easily and cheaply has meant even the little guys can record an album, promote it and actually sell it in reasonable numbers. True it won’t represent very much money for most individuals but it does mean that some people can, just maybe, earn enough to make a living (even if at times it’s a life on baked beans and Tesco economy bread). In any case it shows that digital distribution can work for the little guy as well as the superstars, that legal downloads and streaming can and does support artists of all sorts. So to finish on one of our favourite themes – don’t steal music kids, support the artists instead.