What It Means: Catalog Sales Outnumber Current Sales

February 1, 2016

Every year since people have been reading and writing blogs, January has been a time in the music industry to examine the depressing statistics of album sales from the previous year.

While often grim, these articles are an essential part of covering the year-to-year evolution and changes in how music fans consume their favorite genres. (Plus, they’re usually a better read than the comment section in your favorite music blog’s article about the best albums of the year.)

Case in point, a very interesting article emerged on Music Business Worldwide over a week ago, presenting to us that 2015 was the first year in recorded history during which catalogue album sales outnumbered current album sales.

According to Nielsen data, catalogue albums – which it defines as any release over 18 months old – shifted 122.8m copies in 2015 in the US, down 2.9% on 2014’s tally of 126.5m.

And since no music article is a music article without mentioning Adele, author Tim Ingham pointed out that the pop starlet’s 25 album made up for 7.4 million current sales. That means without her release in 2015, catalogue sales would have cleared any current releases by 11.7 million. (It’s of course important to acknowledge Adele’s position in mainstream music – independent artists don’t necessarily have a lot in common with this sort of star when it comes to sales, whether they’re old releases or new. Adele is worth mentioning in this case because of how much of an impact one album had on the final stats for the year 2015.)

catalog sales nielsen

Taking a deeper dive, the Nielsen stats show that there was a larger discrepancy between sales of new albums and sales of past albums in the ‘physical sales’ column than in the ‘digital sales’ column. Not hard to believe when you factor in the popularity of vinyl records – it’s a lot more likely that the 21-year old getting into record collecting is purchasing 2 old Rolling Stones or Velvet Underground LPs than using his or her record player to spin albums released this year.

On the digital front, current albums beat out catalog albums in sales 52.5 million vs 50.9 million, with catalog singles beating current single sales by a larger margin of 484.9 vs. 479.8. This probably comes down to the demographics of those purchasing music: younger fans are more in touch with digital consumption, following their favorite artists on social media and knowing just when their new music is going to drop. Streaming on the whole is being done by a younger demographic, and we see that this group is more likely to stream singles than older consumers, who might opt for a more dated release. This is good news all around if you’re an artist looking to appeal to a wide array of ages.

catalog sales nielsen

Are catalog sales not something you’ve ever really taken into serious consideration when thinking about the state of music? You’re not crazy. If you’re an independent artist reviewing their year-end sales, you’re likely more focused on how you can continue to better market your more recent or even upcoming work.

What does this mean for artists who are going at it without label support, booking their own gigs, and managing their own marketing efforts across all channels? It’s a lot of data to digest, and there are lots of conclusions to draw. One hugely clear takeaway from all of this, however, is that your old releases can still be important to your future career.

Now, if you go from playing black metal to pop music over 6 years under the same name, yeah, maybe you can let go of some of those early releases as you head into a new direction. But as you continue to evolve and you begin to reach new fans, they’re going to want to hear everything you’ve got to bring them, even if it’s from years ago.

There may be some releases you have from back in the day that have a lot more value you than placed in them originally. You’re trying to appeal to diehard music fans, and in 2016 diehard music fans want access. Find your ‘super fans’ on social media channels, your email lists, and at your shows – give them as much access to your music as you can! When you find those demos or old EPs you handed out after gigs and offer them on iTunes, Spotify and Deezer, you’re able to grow your super fan base and reinforce their dedication.

We’re seeing that catalog sales and streaming matter for all artists, and when you’re able to offer access to more of your music to super fans, everyone benefits.

Tags: adele distribution DIY featuring independent music indie music industry musicbusinessworldwide Nielsen soundscan tunecore