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September 2010 editorial

RIAA 2009 report on Music & Video sales: vinyl and music downloads are growing quickly!

Few months ago RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) published the complete 2009 year-end report on music sales in the USA. The report now makes a clear distinction between liquid music sales (i.e. downloads) and physical media (CDs, LPs, DVDs etc.).
You can download the integral report (PDF file) directly from the RIAA official website.

The statistics RIAA publishes are always very interesting since they compare sales figures of the last year with the previous year. Hence, here we'll discuss what happened in 2009 with respect to 2008. This might sound as old news but we don't have sales figures related to current year yet as these will be available slightly before Summer 2011.

Taking a close look at the numbers, one notices that the trend of the last, say, five years is confirmed. Physical media sales go down (globally) while music downloads go up rapidly. On HiFi forums it might happen to find audiophiles who still believe the current trend of liquid music isn't here to stay. It is just the new flavour of the month, it won't last, they swear. Of course we can close our eyes and avoid to see what's happening in the outside world...

Let's analyze the RIAA numbers a little bit in detail. Overall, there's an impressive -3.5% drop of the total number of units shipped and this includes EVERY kind of media, physical or not. In other words people have bought less "units" (be it singles, albums, ringtones etc.). And if we analyze the amount of money involved, the drop becomes a significative -12.3%. Not a surprise, as this means the medium price of each unit is lower with respect to 2008: sales go down, prices go down accordingly.
It is impossible to take into proper account how illegal Music download can affect these figures but certainly we can't believe people listen to less Music than before. All we can say is that they simply spend less.

Analyzing the report a little bit more deeply we discover that the liquid Music sector is still growing (+9.6%) while mobile phones ringtones market has lost ¼ of its 2008 value (-24.5%!). One might think that the increase of Music downloads is caused by singles download, but that's not completely correct. Indeed, singles sales (single songs, that is) increased by +9.2% while album sales increased by a surprising +20.2%. People seem to prefer complete albums to hit singles. Or, perhaps, they download singles illegally.

Let's have a look at the sad part of the RIAA statistics, i.e. the data which refer to physical media sales. One can't help but notice that CD sales continue to go down quickly (-20.5%) (!!!) while vinyl grows at a good, steady pace (+10.8%). In terms of absolute figures vinyl sales are still very far from CD sales (3.2 millions of units against 293 millions) but the trend we've been observing during the last years is confirmed once again and vynil sales, even in absolute terms, are becoming a no longer negligible phenomenon.

Now, if you have a look at what happens comparing liquid vs physical sales figures you realize that the trend of the previous years is more than confirmed. Actually it was 16% against 84% in 2006, 23% against 77% in 2007 and 34% against 66% in 2008. In 2009 these two figures are even closer: 41% against 59%! I'm pretty sure liquid music sales will surpass physical sales in 2010. It is becoming harder and harder to claim this is just another flavour of the month.

Nothing new under the Sun, one might say. It is clear that digital music will be more and more liquid while those who still prefer a physical medium will buy more and more vinyl. Is there someone who still believes in the future of CDs, SACDs, BDs...?
I'm afraid we should play a sad, yet sweet, funeral elegia for physical digital media. And please forgive me if I choose my favourite one, composed by the New Order 25 years ago (Elegia, from the album "Lowlife" - 1985) to celebrate their former leader Ian Curtis, passed away too early. Incidentally, I own this album in vinyl :-)

© Copyright 2010 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

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