It's January, so it's time to start updating the death-of-the-blockbuster stats. Here's my favorite, the precipitous decline in gold, platinum, multiplatinum albums (that's 500,000, 1,000,00 and 1-10 million units sold).
According to the RIAA's database , just 285 albums were awarded one of those certifications in 2006, the lowest figure in 23 years.
UPDATE: Jay Frank rightly points out in the comments that the RIAA database is not up to date, and only includes the first seven months of the year.
Projecting from the rate through July, the annual figure would be 489 albums, not 285. That would make 2006 the worst year since 1991, not 1983. He also corrects the top ten list to include the last week of the year, which changes some of the albums in the lower five. I haven't updated either the chart below or the list to reflect those, so take them as directional rather than definitive.
UPDATE2: I tried that vastly underrated research tool known as the phone. Turns out that the RIAA has released this data, it just hasn't bothered to update its website. The actual number for 2006 is 406 Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum albums, which makes it the worst year since 1990. I've updated the chart below accordingly. The updated top-ten list is here.
Here's a graphical look at the last half-century of blockbusters:
Note that at least three things are killing the blockbuster album, beside the decline of the hit across our culture: 1) the overall malaise of the music industry (sales for the first half of last year were down 6%, end year numbers aren't out yet); 2) a shift from albums to singles online; 3) the decline of Top 40 radio, which is the main marketing vehicle for hits.
Also, here's 2006's top ten, courtesy of Paul Kedrosky. As he notes, "The best-selling album of 2006 was actually the worst-selling best-selling album since Metallica back in 1991." What does it say about the music industry that the soundtrack to what was originally a Disney afterschool TV special was the bestselling album in the country last year?
Top ten selling albums of 2006Rank Artist Album Units Sold 1 HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL SOUNDTRACK 3,480,000 2 RASCAL FLATTS ME AND MY GANG 3,060,000 3 CARRIE UNDERWOOD SOME HEARTS 2,460,000 4 NICKELBACK ALL THE RIGHT REASONS 2,310,000 5 JAMES BLUNT BACK TO BEDLAM 2,060,000 6 JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE FUTURESEX/LOVE SOUNDS 1,950,000 7 DIXIE CHICKS TAKING THE LONG WAY 1,770,000 8 MARY J. BLIGE BREAKTHROUGH 1,750,000 9 VARIOUS ARTISTS NOW 21 1,640,000 10 BEYONCE B'DAY 1,600,000 Source: Nielsen SoundScan