Digital Song Sales Concentrated on Hits

Music sales have been changed by the Internet. That’s perhaps the most obvious statement I’ve ever written on Audio4cast. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to look at how the Internet has impacted music sales, and a post on Nielsen’s blog recently did just that, discussing a recent article in Billboard magazine.

Individual tracks accounted for 57% of all digital music sold in 2008. More intriguing is the fact that the top 200 tracks accounted for 14.5% of sales in 2004 and rose to 15.8% in 2005, 17.1% in 2006 and 2007 and 17.2% in 2008. Through October 25, 2009, the top 200 tracks’ share stood at 18.7%.

Not exactly what you were thinking, right? We all think of the Internet as fostering diverse listening and independent artists. So why are sales concentrating more on the most popular songs, not less?

It turns out that popular tracks may be benefitting from a “herd effect due to the viral nature of the Internet. The awareness generated by that small number of songs could drown out less popular songs.” In other words, top 40 playlists are still driving music sales. In any week, one of out four songs sold belongs to that top 200.

On the other hand, Album sales are trending in the other direction. “The top 200 digital albums have accounted for a smaller share of total digital album sales since 2004.” “The top 200 digital albums have shown an opposite trend in market share, steadily dropping to 21.9% in 2008 from 28.7% in 2004.”

Listeners that purchase albums online are listening to fewer hit albums and more eclectic album offerings, while those that purchase single tracks are concentrating on the top 200 songs more and more. The numbers show that it’s not exactly the expansive and expanding marketplace many have imagined. While the Internet has become the place to find and listen to music by independent and unknown artists, the diverse offerings have yet to impact digital song sales, which remain concentrated on the hits.

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4 responses

  1. It would be very interesting to compare this data to the Rhapsody subscription model data. Do listening habits differ if you have to pay for songs on an individual basis versus an all-you-can-eat model?

  2. I feel like there could be a couple things to consider – at least among “underground” music fans, lots of the fans buy the albums of the bands they like and want to support, so the diversity of the album charts may also be influenced by the actual diversity of people. perhaps reason for the singles numbers, well, it may also be because kids don’t want the whole albums of many top 40 bands – they might just want to have a copy of “that song on the radio” because it’s a song they like. the top 200 songs are technically the most advertised songs, so it seems natural that more folks would know about them and want to buy ’em. Underground bands often don’t get all their sales in one burst – not saying long tail, but the majors-released music works like the film industry with deadlines and high-impact openings and coordinated tv and ad coverage.

    i dunno, really. But that was an interesting article and it made me think.

  3. Interesting article, but having titles from our catalog of original music tracks uploaded for sale on the net, the point of the article is a well-known issue for us.

    Question: Is it only “kids” who lead in the music market?

  4. This is taken from Pandora’s website:

    During registration to the Pandora Services, you must provide your email address, year of birth, gender and zip code and you must supply a password to us.

    Not sure how you were able to register without doing that..

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