The Album, a Commodity in Disfavor – New York Times
Last year, digital singles outsold plastic CD’s for the first time. So far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent, to roughly 189 million units, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales are rising at a slightly faster pace, but buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.
On the one hand this is to be expected. The wheat/chaff ratio of tracks on pop music CDs is one of the chief reasons for the decline in CD sales and the rise of piracy according to polls done over the last 10 years. Also, it is a natural consequence of radio promotion which promotes the heck out of one song of an album, and then the next song, and so on. So ‘natch, you give people the option to buy just the songs they like or know and what do they do?
On the other hand, this really is more than that. The album has been the primary format of music delivery for a long time. For an artist, you spend x number of years working on an album, you put it out, you promote it, you tour on it, and then repeat. For a label, your promotions people are focused on the current release, working the radio stations, and magazines, etc… For press, you focus so many column inches to music reviews, you can’t focus 1/10 of the space for a song as you would a record, so you can review less. The only part of the business that would probably be ok with this is radio, which has always been singles oriented.
Addressing this shift in the business will be game changing for the labels, I think. The major acts will do fine with their CDs for a little while, but this is really the chance for one to jump out ahead with some well timed and well played moves.