It’s no secret that the music industry has not had the greatest 21st century. Back in 1999, labels collected over $28 billion in sales, the biggest peak in history. (That’s a lot of copies of …Baby One More Time.) When the calendar turned over, the deluge began, and the combination of widespread broadband Internet access, innovations in file sharing technology, and a general devaluation of the product led to steady declines in sales. Pirates were partially to blame, but so were music executives who were slow to adapt to the brave new world.
But perhaps the industry has found bottom. According to a report put out by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, music sales were up 0.3 percent in 2012. That’s not much of a gain from the year before, but it’s better than losing more blood. All told, the industry brought in $16.5 billion in sales.
Most of that increase, unsurprisingly, comes from the steady increase in people willing to pay for digital music. Download sales were up nine percent over 2011 and accounted for 34 percent of the overall pie. More and more income is also coming in care of streaming services, whose subscription fees now make up 10 percent of all music sales internationally.
Of course, when you dive deeper into the numbers, there’s some obvious top-heaviness. For the second year in a row, the best-selling album was Adele’s 21, which sold 8.3 million copies worldwide. The top-selling single was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” with 12.5 million units shifted. The other top-selling singles include Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” while the other best-selling albums belong to Taylor Swift, One Direction, and Lana Del Rey (whose Born to Die sold a somewhat astonishing 3.4 million copies worldwide even though it only went gold in the United States).
Record companies still have an uphill battle ahead of them. Though digital sales outpace physical sales in the United States, the worldwide market share for CDs and vinyl is still 58 percent. If labels intend on continuing to derive more and more business from digital sales, they’re going to have to find ways to penetrate areas of the world where broadband isn’t necessarily the norm, which hurts download sales and negates streaming services.
As the numbers for Adele, Swift, and One Direction prove, however, it’s that the music world’s biggest consumers remain steadfastly teen girls and soccer moms. Should either of those groups ever learn how to torrent, the bottom could drop out completely.