We are at an 'interesting' time in musical replay. 2018 saw continued declines in CD sales and a concomitant rise in streamed music in many countries. Even those who have hitherto eschewed online media in favour of discs (such as Japan) have seen the CD finally eclipsed. As this is a continued move to streaming individual tracks instead, don't be surprised if you hear the phrase, "What's an album?" soon.
The good news in this is vinyl sales still continue to increase year-on-year according to the British Phonographic Industry report at the start of 2019. The Arctic Monkeys album Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino was the fastest-selling LP in a quarter of a century and sales of new vinyl hit 4.2m. While LP's growth has slowed markedly, it is still growing, and presently one out of every 10 physical media sales are made on vinyl!
Diving through the data, however, highlights some potential changes in the way people are consuming media, and not just in the switch from physical to online media. 2018 was the year when the computer game market eclipsed the music and home video market combined. And, although the largest selling album was George Ezra's Staying at Tamara's, the physical media charts were dominated both by compilations and soundtracks.
Although the music industry is claiming "143bn albums or their equivalents were either streamed or purchased in 2018", a significant slice of that market falls down to a handful of tracks from Drake's Scorpion and Post Malone's Beerbongs & Bentleys albums streamed repeatedly. Rappers, it seems, know precisely how many hits they need per album for it to register as an album 'sale'. It seems to be about four tracks!
Meanwhile, the situation is more dire for new music acts. Only one new artist – Anna-Marie – shifted more than 100,000 albums last year (enough for a gold disc) while just two – Jorja Smith and Giggs – moved the 60,000 albums required to receive a silver disc.
With 'last man standing' major music retailer HMV in administration for the second time this decade, the future for music retail 'on the high street' remains uncertain. Physical music sales don't just rely on such stores these days, and there exists a vibrant market in new and second-hand sales online and in Independent stores. Even cassette has seen a comeback. But I can't help feeling that we are approaching an inflection point, and it's now up to us – the music lovers, irrespective of age or tastes – who need to man the barricades in the fight for our music!