Nielsen's 2014 U.S. Music report confirms what we all already know
Jay Z, 10 years ago: “I sold kilos of coke, I’m guessin’ I can sell CDs.” That line needs revision, because even the savviest musicians can’t sell CDs these days. Physical albums haven’t sold this poorly since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991, and in a report out today the consumer research company reported another brutal year for CDs. Sales of the shiny discs dropped nearly 15 percent in 2014, selling almost 25 million fewer units than in 2013.
The report wasn’t all bad. While digital album sales last year dropped about 10 percent, on-demand music streams—which include the Spotifys and YouTubes of the world—leapt 54.5 percent to 163.9 billion streams. The vinyl resurgence enjoyed a similar degree of growth, improving from 6.1 million units sold in 2013 to 9.2 million sold last year.
“Music fans continue to consume music through on-demand streaming services at record levels, helping to offset some of the weakness that we see in sales,” said Nielsen exec David Bakula in the report. “The continued expansion of digital music consumption is encouraging, as is the continued record-setting growth that we are seeing in vinyl LP sales.”
The death of the CD has been documented for a while—but comparing today’s market with the Jay Z of the distant past occupied is fun (in a geeky, “Remember how naïve we were in 2004?” type of way). Last year only two albums—the Frozen soundtrack and Taylor Swift’s 1989—went platinum, the industry’s designation for albums that sell more than a million units. Both sold about 2.2 million copies, with Frozen edging out 1989 by about 36,000 units to take the top slot.
That might seem impressive, until you consider that 10 years ago Usher’s Confessions took the top slot with nearly eight million units sold. That number includes 2004’s paltry digital and vinyl sales as well, but still handily trumps Swift’s equivalent statistic from 2014, when 1989 sold 3.66 million total units.
Only two of 2014’s top-selling albums would make 2004’s list of the 10 best sellers, which also included records by—brace yourself—Kenny Chesney, Maroon 5, Evanescence, Ashlee Simpson, and Now That’s What I Call Music! Another fun fact: Evanescence’s Fallen sold 2.56 million copies in 2004 and it didn’t even come out that year.