has pop finally eaten itself?
has pop finally eaten itself?

has pop finally eaten itself?
has pop finally eaten itself?

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.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I buy maybe one or two “new” albums a year and they’re usually from bands that are somewhat under the radar. Everything else dates back at least 20+ years, usually more. Most current music just isn’t that great. It’s mostly a mediocre rehash (visually as well as musically) of another act that did it WAY better and with actual conviction. Not with a half sneered ironic smile or a nicely packaged formula. Sad but that’s just the way it is. Folks get things too easy these days and don’t have to work at anything. Song writing and talent have become secondary, taking a back seat to air brushed photos, fashion ads and run of the mill well oiled PR corporations.

  2. On first glance this seems like conclusive proof that new music is generally shite but thinking about it there is a hell of a lot of old crap still around that is resurrected when someone croaks (eg. Whitney bloody Houston!)

    As long as there is a constant stream of quality punk rock available, new and old, that’s the most important thing!

  3. I think it’d be unfair to jump to the conclusion that new music is shite just because of two figures.
    There’s so many factors that need to be considered here. First of all, what is included in the word “records”? When I saw the picture I really thought this article was going to be about vinyl. But more likely these figures are about CDs? Are itunes downloads included or not? Legal downloads from other websites? Second-hand sales from amazon? …

    Speaking of downloads – one reason why there might have been more sales of catalogue music then of current music is that the older music appeals to people who still go to shops and buy cds, while the kids who listen to Rihanna etc. probably do a lot more downloading, whether legal or not. Also, if they did buy cds, teenagers might have less income to spend on music than people in their 30s and 40s have.

    I wonder if the Nielsen Soundscan has some sort of information on who the record buyers are and if they do, why they did not release it. Two figures look a lot like good old reasonable unbiased maths, but there’s so many stories behind those figures that the album price can hardly be the only explanation for them.

  4. new music is shit, thats it. 98% of all new music is mediocre and derivative, I don’t actually mind shit music because you can laugh at it but the majority of bands that get signed these days (or simply release music) are over-rehearsed, underinspired kids thinking that the ‘music business’ is a good career move (beats working eh?) thus people give it one listen and then move onto the next band. most lazy fuckers just nick riffs and ideas from their dads record collections, thats why old stuff is selling like hot cakes, the new boys need something to rip off. There is TOO much music, just like there is TOO much ‘art’ and TOO much photography and most of it is pointless, meaningless crap which will not be remembered by the end of next week .. but thanks to the internet and ADD thats all most people want, a quick fix to get them to the end of the week and then move onto the next uninspiring piece of shit that they can cling to in the hope that it may bring some meaning into their empty lives. Musicians don’t have a choice, they are born and can’t do anything else, buying $2000 worth of gear and starting a band doesn’t make you a musician it makes you a tit.
    Ultimately the situation does no one any good, yeah I love my record collection but I don’t live in the past, but at the moment it is so difficult to find good new music one has no option but to continually swap genres and search or pillage the past in the hope of finding something you may have missed first time round.

  5. Well a lot of people I know do buy a lot more music from the past. I am at the moment. though I do buy current bands that I like to. At the moment I am listening to a lot of 60s music but I try to find the original lps. Though some I have bought on CD. Its not suprising that older bands do sell a lot as the originality was there that you don’t get so much nowdays with all the bands. As for ripping off I wouldn’t say bands intend to rip off all the time. Maybe throw in a few different influences here and there. Its takes special people to create music that lasts!

    Also bands now don’t record albums as often as they did. Look at the Beatles. The contract was to put out 2 albums a year. Unless your Mark E.Smith there is really not that many bands who would bring an album out every year. Maybe 1 year of every 2 or 3 or longer in some cases. So if people are waiting on new material for a long time for their favourite bands then yes they may explore and want to listen to older bands.

    But as it says you can pick up cds for about 3 quid in some places and a lot at £4.99 so the price reflects what people will buy. I may be going off a bit but I hope you get what I mean.


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