Music Ally notes that digital album sales have outpaced CDs for the first time in 2013. Thanks to The Trichordist for the link.
When you include vinyl and other physical formats (not sure what that would be – cassette? 8-track? flexi-disk?) physical media is collectively a winner with 51.4% of sales.
But in 2013, there were 11.8 million downloads and only 11.1 million CD sales.
This didn’t surprise me. iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play, and the other digital sales venues are the high-profile retail channels now. There are too few physical music stores now. And I don’t think people really want CDs. I suspect that the majority of CDs purchased are ripped immediately and played back on phones and tablets, and never see the inside of an actual CD player.
I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but since streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify plays are counted in digital sales numbers (though not one-for-one), I suspect David Lowery (Mr. Trichordist, and successful musician of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame) considers this a dubious milestone.
I like the idea of digital distribution – mostly due to low overhead and world-wide audience potential – but unfortunately, there still aren’t enough good outlets for quality digital downloads. Most albums aren’t available in CD quality downloads, only MP3 or AAC. Not enough albums are sold through placed like Bleep or Bandcamp, with WAVE or FLAC download options. I’ve been writing about the death of physical media for the last 5 years and the situation has barely improved in that time. Some of the high-profile artists who have experimented with FLAC or WAVE downloads have backed off the idea. I am happy that Nine Inch Nails and My Bloody Valentine both had well-done digital album releases this year. But other than that, big studio releases are only available digitally as lossy compressed files.
I make two CDs of each RPM Challenge album because it’s a requirement of the challenge (why? I’m not sure – they don’t rip them for the jukebox, and I have to try to upload for that separately). Other than that I haven’t made a physical audio CD for distribution in over 10 years. Now, I’m not David Lowery – I barely sell any music, so obscurity is always my biggest enemy. But as a music consumer, I appreciate being able to get music on demand and the way I want to consume it, and I believe in offering the same options to my listeners.