« Introducing Wired Science TV | Main | Don't quit your day job »

January 04, 2007



I didn't know that about Classical; that is interesting. Thanks.


Thanks, Chris. Very enlightening.

But I'm still skeptical about the "Overall CD sales are declining" claims. I think a lot of CD sales are not included in these figures - they only include "point-of-purchase sales".

In or about 2000, when the decline was first complained about, recording and replication technology made it cheap enough for indie bands to easily afford to sell lots of CDs at gigs. In 2001 my (Celtic Folk - very niche) band pressed 800 and sold about 500 (in Brisbane, Australia - we don't tour). If 1000 bands across the USA (I reckon that figure's on the low side - there are supposed to be about 3 million bands in MySpace) did the same (I reckon many would have done a lot better), that's a lot of hard-copy CDs that are not included in these figures.

Since then, many bands sell CDs via their own websites as well, which would make these figures more understandable but even less accurate. Despite having several stores take consignments, we have *never* sold a CD through a music store and I have friends (eg at http://www.mundy-turner.com) who tour the world, sell heaps at gigs and via their website but can't get them into stores either.

However, our albums *are* available in iTunes, etc - thanks to CDBaby - and would probably show up as "digital-only" sales, which is inaccurate.

My question is: What are "non-traditional music outlets" and how are these figures arrived at? Can we get Nielsen to take a closer look at the "Digital-only" sales and see if any significant proportion of these are available as hard copies that cannot be counted by Soundscan??

There has to be a way to get a handle on this phenomenon but I've not seen it addressed anywhere. I argue that a significant proportion of the sales decline that RIAA/IFPI complain about is due to better replication technology driving long tail access, which dilutes the market in this way - and not piracy (but that's another story). In the bigger picture, that's not bad for the industry, just for the majors ...


Peter Kohan

Re: Hughie's comment above - Nielsen Soundscan covers very few "non-traditional retailers" per se. I believe only Starbucks, Limited Too, and JC Penney are non-trad. accounts counted by the service. There are some accounts - like Whole Foods (or any grocery or drug chain carrying music) that sell CDs, but are not participants in Nielsen Soundscan.

All other CDs sold at "non-traditional retail" aren't counted by Nielsen. But even Starbucks Coffee's own private branded compilations run through their Hear Music unit are not counted on Soundscan. Neither are private-label CDs sold in retailers like Pottery Barn. I don't know why per se, but I'd be interested in having Nielsen record those sales as well. It would give a better picture of the overall health of the music industry and the demand for the CD as a format per se.

To Chris's original point about catalog sales - I find the stats surprising only because I know of many layoffs at the major labels (including my own) in catalog, classical, and jazz divisions. Verve Music Group suffered a loss of 40% of its staff. Sony BMG Masterworks (their classical label) had a few layoffs, including several senior execs. Deep catalog still suffered a decline in physical product. Its gains on the digital side just show how the iPod has continued to permeate the culture and become the de facto mobile digital music (and video) player. This means that its not just for technologically advanced kids and teens anymore; it's for Mom and Dad and even Grandpa and Grandma - and they are the most likely purchasers of deep catalog recordings.


It is clear that despite the growth in sales of Classical albums, the genre is threatened in a much bigger way--if senior execs were laid off at Sony, it is probably because they were too traditionalist. Sales will continue to be healthy for a certain amount of time, meanwhile quality will plummet and eventually no one will be able to defend Classical music as an art form that is highly different from pop, jazz, or anything else. As far as the current industry being healthy for lesser-known groups, this may be, however, the longterm well-being of any genre--punk, alternative, or whatever--is threatened by the deluge of posts on My Space or aggressive private sales in underground scenes. This kind of self-promotion, based on a disdain for popular artists and commerical music, is in fact detrimental to both more commerical artists and artists who choose not to be commerical, who are more content with a small audience and detest trying to sell themselves to anyone not immediately connected to the scene. The internet has made too much available to too many people, with the paradoxical result that the more innately commerical genres suffer and more elite or unpopular kinds of music become more commerically marketable.

Paul Botts

Some folks who know a lot more than I do about classical music are far more upbeat about the genre's prospects, and the long-tail pattern is part of that mix:




People in the recording industry are hopeful about the genre´s prospects. Musicians know that standards are going DOWN as the music is marketted to a wider, increasingly ignorant audience. Some musicians will of course celebrate the new trend, even the changes in the values associated with Classical music, especially if they are suddenly making money or finding a place among the elite that they never would have dreamed of having. However, whatever the statistics say, the other reality says that bogus "Classical" albums are making the charts because of new marketting strategies.


I'm glad for the Long Tail analysis of the Soundscan data. However, as someone who worked with a mini-label for a summer, I can say that Soundscan is a big source of problems, not just the sales channels themselves. They charge musicians and labels channel fees just to "register" you with their service, not even providing the label with any raw data or analytics unless you pony up some more dough. Basically, relying on big-label numbers is pretty misleading but still a place to start.


The apparent volatility of classical sales is due to a small number of pop/classical "crossover" hits.

Jonah Keegan

I read elsewhere that another genre which got a lift in 2006 was soundtracks, driven primarily by the success of "High School Musical." Given that a one-off was the primary driver in 19% growth (YoY for 2005-06) in soundtracks -- a bigger category in total sales than classical -- I would posit that a similar driver may lie behind the classical growth, namely the baby einstein phenomenon. I'm guessing the company had a banner year as the founder was one of our President's "everyday american heroes" in his SOTU address. iTunes numbers by genre might support your position, but I'm guessing "high-achieving parent paranoia" beat out "luddites thirsting for classical digital downloads" in 2006. :)

ref - http://rogerbourland.com/blog/2007/01/07/2006-genre-album-sales-report/

The comments to this entry are closed.


The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!