Time to panic!
For the first time in pop history old records are outselling new records.
Has pop music reached the point of no return? Is the game now well and truly over?
In the two decades since Nielsen Soundscan started to keep track of U.S. album sales in 1991, the company has seen the industry fold in half, digital sales catch up to physical, and vinyl mount a resurgence. But until last week, they’d never seen old records outsell new ones.
The first six months of the year saw sales of 76.6 million catalog records — industry-speak for albums released more than 18 months ago — compared to 73.9 million current albums.
“That’s a combination of two things: not having the big blockbuster new releases in the first half, and having very, very strong catalog,” says Nielsen analyst David Bakula, who points out that these numbers resulted even though Adele’s 21 — still considered current — has sold a million more copies in 2012 than it had at this point in 2011.
The top-selling catalog records of the year so far include Guns N’ Roses’ Greatest Hits and four records by Whitney Houston, whose canon got a boost after her death in February. Bakula says the biggest reason catalog has been so strong is that record labels and retailers continue to drop the price of older albums, often to as low as $5.99 or $7.99. Those prices, sometimes half of what they once were, are bringing in new customers. “I really, truly do believe that there probably is a consumer that is buying music here that wasn’t buying music in the past,” he says.