Old Records Are Outselling New Ones For the First Time

Guns-N-Roses.jpg
by Chris Kornelis

See also: All of the arguments about digital music, summarized

In the two decades since Nielsen Soundscan started to keep track of U.S. album sales in 1991, the company has seen the industry fold in half, digital sales catch up to physical, and vinyl mount a resurgence. But until last week, they'd never seen old records outsell new ones.

The first six months of the year saw sales of 76.6 million catalog records--industry-speak for albums released more than 18 months ago--compared to 73.9 million current albums.

"That's a combination of two things: not having the big blockbuster new releases in the first half, and having very, very strong catalog in the first half," says Nielsen analyst David Bakula, who pointed out that these numbers resulted even though Adele's 21--still considered current--has sold a million more copies in 2012 than it had at this point in 2011.

The top-selling catalog records of the year so far include Guns N' Roses' Greatest Hits and four records by Whitney Houston, whose canon got a boost after her death in February. Bakula says the biggest reason catalog has been so strong is that record labels and retailers continue to drop the price of older albums, often to as low as $5.99 or $7.99. He says those prices, sometimes half of what they once were, are bringing in new customers. "I really, truly do believe that there probably is a consumer that is buying music here that wasn't buying music in the past," he says.

Mike Batt, owner of Seattle's Silver Platters chain, says the steady flow of catalog sales has helped make 2012 a better year than 2011. "I think a lot of [music retailers] would say they feel better this year about things than they did last year," he says.

Though album sales dropped 3.2 percent in the first half of the year as compared to the first half of 2011, with 150.5 million albums sold, digital album sales (current and catalog combined) grew 13.8 percent and physical albums stayed basically flat, shedding just 0.6 percent. The slide in sales is attributable to a slump in purchases of new albums, which are also more expensive. Catalog CDs and most digital albums stay close to the $7.99-$10.99 range, while new CDs are mostly in the $13-$18 range.

So is the message here that consumers would be willing to buy more new CDs if the price dropped? Dave Dederer, co-founder of the Presidents of the United States of America and a digital-music entrepreneur now working for Hewlett-Packard, doesn't think so. He feels listeners willing to pay $7.99 for new records--as opposed to stealing them online and paying nothing, which is by far the most popular way of acquiring music--are equally willing to pay $14.

One major-label executive, who asked not to be named, says labels have long experimented with variable pricing, depending on the release. "There's no standard pricing, if you will," the exec says. "It really depends on the dynamic of the project and the consumer profile, and how we can best fit the consumer profile."

Jason Hughes, owner of Ballard's Sonic Boom, says $12.99 should be the ceiling for new records, but dropping them any lower is a slippery slope. "As you lower the price of the CD, you're lowering the value of someone's art," Hughes says. "At what point do you say, 'We're going to sell them for $9.99 and [artists are] not going to be able to make a living off their music, or they're going to have to tour 11 and a half months a year'?"


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22 comments
Maccabbee215
Maccabbee215

Dont understand what this has to do with the article, the original comment, or my reply. Or are you just piggy backing on the first sentence out of some strange hope to have a conversation with someone?

JasonS
JasonS

I know I would rather buy cds then downloads but until the cost of cds drop to under $10 that is not going to happen.

just sayin'
just sayin' like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hip hop these days is garbage. Damn near all of it is bragging about all the money they are making. Yeah, right. A producer makes the music, so no royalties. Nobody buys records anymore, so no record sales. Rappers don't tour because nobody wants to see someone talking over a pre recorded beat, so no touring revenue. Since there is no touring, there are no merch sales.So where are these playas getting all that money? Oh yeah, they arent. If they actually get big enough to warrant a video, they are turning all the cars and jewelry over to its owners when the camera stops rolling.

Maccabbee215
Maccabbee215

So sick of folks disrespecting hip hop. It's so easy for you guys to crap on the inner city. There's a little known fact for you. Back in the late seventies and early eighties music programs were ripped out of inner city public schools. But hey Mom and Dad had a record player, and kids who had music in the souls made due. Thats what we do, make due! It's not our fault corporate America is attaching it self to rap music. Notice I said "rap", and are no longer interested in pushing your sound to the masses. Do I personally like what is going on with most of rap? NO! Do I understand the gate keepers are pushing crap out to manipulate our kids? YES! When you attack a whole genre like you did, you know what you sound like? An old rascit prick who hates the sight of little black boys. I hear the crape out there coming from the speaker. I keep just making Hip Hop, like the greats before me did. Do you know me? Of course you don't I am not spitting "drivel". I make due. Do yourself I favor, do what the inner city poor have done for centuries. MAKE DUE!!!

clevertrousers
clevertrousers

@Maccabbee215 not really. it's pretty valid, so it stands. sorry.

Parmstron3
Parmstron3 like.author.displayName 1 Like

In 1996 an absurd experimental band with a FCC unfriendly name had a hit record, The Butthole Surfers "pepper" this song is still played on "alternative" radio all the time.  There is no way that happens now in rock/punk/metal genres, a major label would never put the $ n promo behind anything that wasnt train/maroon 5/nickelback safe.  Used to be the weird guys were cool and and now its just everyone trying to outcool/outhipster each other, sad.

Taztaylor
Taztaylor

The validity of the article is a little stretched since they consider anything 18 months old as "catalogue". Considering most artists are going 3 years or more between albums, I would have considered 5 years old or more as "catalogue". 18 months is still a current album.

REVILUTION
REVILUTION like.author.displayName 1 Like

Maybe old music outsells new music because new music is pretty much utter s***. Current artists (rap, hip-hop, etc.) spew inane, pedantic drivel, and the new rock spinoffs (death core, metal core, screamo, etc.) might have an intelligent message (or might not), but it's lost because no one can understand it. I long for the days when musicians gave more of a f*** about their songs than their paycheck, and I would happily pay $100 for Janis Joplin before I'd drop $14 on 50 Cent. It's not the price, it's the quality. And the relevance.

Bray
Bray

There's a lot wrong with the "digital" music industry, but mosly it's just that there is nothing desirable and/or collectable that's also "mainstream" accessible.  Just wait for the Stones new record or another Beatles issue and see what happens in the markeplace.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

that's what i just said??????

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

Do these numbers include iTunes, Amazon and Google digital music sales? Because I know earlier this year Amazon and Google, at least, were offering tons of older hit albums for prices like $3 or $5. That puts it into the territory of 'I know I have this album but it's somewhere in a box, and then I'd have to rip it to listen to it on my phone, so I'll just buy another copy instead.'

Michael Seltzer
Michael Seltzer

I admire the childlike faith of the Nielsen analyst who believes that there's increased overall demand for physical media when gas costs $3.40, Spotify costs $5, and more people are buying bargain bin CD's.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

Guns and Roses greatest hits is outselling Chinese Democracy???

Paul Riddell
Paul Riddell

Old music is outselling new music? With some of the unlistenable half-assed Pearl Jam ripoff whiner rock being offered, is anybody surprised? If I wanted to spend my day listening to inarticulate hipsters crying because "Mommy won't let me buy heroin with her credit card!", I'd move back to Portland.

Whoknows
Whoknows like.author.displayName 1 Like

Perhaps the reason old music is outselling new music...is record companies have absolutely zero interest in new bands nowdays, unless you are a boy band or hip-hop?

Gat2keeponmovin
Gat2keeponmovin

One major-label executive, who asked not to be named, says labels have long experimented with variable pricing, depending on the release. "There's no standard pricing, if you will," the exec says. "It really depends on the dynamic of the project and the consumer profile, and how we can best fit the consumer profile."  I still remember the $5 check I got from the price fixing settlement. Maybe this unnamed exec does not?

mariejeankdkdk
mariejeankdkdk

guys u should read this article  ... tinyurl.com/cedzcsdcs

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