Classical Album Sales Down, Digital Tracks Up in 2012

Downloads Now Account for a Third of Album Sales

Friday, January 04, 2013 - 03:27 PM

Classical album sales dropped sharply in 2012, by 20.5 percent from 2011. About 7.5 million copies were sold last year, compared with 9.4 million in 2011. It was the largest drop of any genre except for jazz, which saw a 26 percent decline.

The numbers were released by Nielsen SoundScan on Friday.

Most musical genres experienced sales declines in 2012, with the exception of country music and rock. Industry-wide, album sales overall fell 4 percent in 2012 to 315.96 million albums, after 2011 saw a rare 3 percent increase in sales.

The top-selling classical album in 2012 was a Crossover release, Andrea Bocelli's "One Night in Central Park," a concert featuring an all-star lineup with Céline Dion, Tony Bennett and Chris Botti.

There was a potential silver lining. Digital album sales – meaning full-album downloads – were up 14.6 percent in the classical sector, mirroring industry-wide trends. About 2.6 million digital albums were sold in 2012, up from 2.3 million in 2011.

Individual digital tracks saw a 5 percent bump.

Still, the lingering question is whether that gain was enough to offset CD declines. As Digital Music News noted on Friday, the uptick comes alongside a very successful year for Spotify, the ad-supported streaming service, which now boasts 20 million active subscribers.

Weigh in: Did you buy music in 2012? Do you prefer downloads or another format?


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Comments [5]

Kathy of Aragon from NYC

Bought a ton of classical CD's, or so it seems to me. I load them onto my IPod but also listen to them on the Bose. Downloads restrict me to the computer or the IPod. I've downloaded several things but the result was inadequate. CD's are portable and can move with you. The Bose fills the room, the IPod just fills your head (don't have a dock, can't have/don't want everything...). I can actually LOAN a CD to somebody, just like you can LOAN a book. Though digital is ubiquitous, the CD, the book, the object, is generous and communal.

Jan. 07 2013 04:53 PM

I get most of my classical music fix from WQXR and some from WRTI in Philly. I tried Pandora, but, due to licensing restrictions, Pandora can't play, say, movements I-III of a concerto back-to-back-to-back. If Spotify can play pieces like this, then I'd consider subscribing to Spotify. This is the 21st century; physical media such as CDs are on their way out.

Jan. 07 2013 10:38 AM
Albert Combrink, Pianist South Africa from South Africa.

There is a growing Space Problem. CDs take shelf space and if you've been collecting for 20 years, where to put your purchases becomes a major issue. I buy CDs, pop them straight into my iPod software, and then store them in the basement. Where possible I buy downloads, which bypasses the physical space issue. I am South African, and we tend to have a lot more space in our residential properties than Europe. Touring Germany in 2010 I was told repeatedly by young people that they just do not buy CDs as they have nowhere to keep them, and if I had downloads available, they would prefer to buy those. As a musician who sells CDs as an independent artist, I am considering selling Data sticks at my shows rather than CDs. That said, my discs remain available in CD format or download at the regular online outlets like Amazon or CDbaby.
Albert C

Jan. 06 2013 03:10 PM
Dillon Welch, Student at UT Austin

I don't think I bought any music in all of 2012. Shortly into the year I began subscribing to Spotify, which has revolutionized the way we can access music. I was a free user, and am now a paying customer, but I think it means a lot for classical music. I can find virtually any piece I want on there (maybe not always the recording I want, but there are usually plenty to choose from). Plus, labels like Naxos have almost their entire catalog on the site. This way, I can expose myself to more music, especially more obscure stuff that I would otherwise not take the risk of buying without listening to. Every click earns money for the artists, not much at that, but I see a greater picture here. Because I believe more people will be exposed to a lot of this classical music now, that will increase awareness and care for it, AND could possibly encourage people to go out and buy those albums that they found on Spotify and love so much. I definitely think that Spotify is helping classical music endure in the 21st Century.

Jan. 06 2013 12:54 PM
jeffk from Brooklyn

I've tried going digital over the last two years, with mixed results. I do my best not to buy "lossy" music, particularly for classical recordings, so that narrows my options quite a bit. I enjoyed Ariama at first, but after a failed transaction led to a month of awful customer service, I was happy to walk away and not return. eClassical is the only other major option, but I just don't seem to go there much. I've actually come back around to buying CDs again—in a lot of cases it tends to be the cheapest option (versus a FLAC download) anyway.

Jan. 04 2013 04:27 PM

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