CD Sales down by 39%?
February 26, 2001 10:33 AM   Subscribe

CD Sales down by 39%? And guess who's to blame. (Also linked in the article is the interesting site.)
posted by gi_wrighty (43 comments total)
blah blah blah. The music industry runs in cycles--usually peaking when the market is flooded with bland, soulless pop drivel (read: *NSynch). Then it declines until the "next new thing" emerges (usually from the kids themselves), and people become interested again. That is, until that has the life wrung out of it by the major labels.

Sure, there are kids choosing Napster over the record store, but that's what you get when you intentionally put out music with the lifespan of a fruitfly!
posted by jpoulos at 10:42 AM on February 26, 2001

Actually sales of CD singles are down 39%. If CD sales were down that much, the RIAA would be dropping hydrogen bombs on Napster's headquarters.

I can totally see how Napster might affect single sales, but singles have hardly been a useful format in the US for years because most songs aren't actually released that way anymore.
posted by daveadams at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2001

Prices for CDs went up about a dollar a few months ago. But I'm sure that has nothing to do with dropping sales figures. Hmph.
posted by frykitty at 11:07 AM on February 26, 2001

Singles? CD Singles?? What was that thing you put on your record player to play singles with the large hole?

Why can't the RIAA provide the figures for regular CD sales?
posted by john445 at 11:10 AM on February 26, 2001

According to the Salon / AP version of this story, this may have as much to do with the industry's cutback of single production as with file-swapping. I've always supected that the RIAA was more concerned with control than with profit anyway.
posted by harmful at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2001

Of course CD singles are going down. Who wants to fork up 5 bucks for one song with 3 remixed versions of it. Not me, thats for damn sure. Make your full CD a good listen and you don't have anything to worry about.
posted by howa2396 at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2001

CD singles are CDs that have the one song, plus 7 or 8 alternate takes of the same song, and maybe one unreleased B-side to make it a must-buy for the diehard fan. All for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of the full album. They're the biggest ripoffs in the music industry today, so it's unsurprising that people stopped buying them the moment they got an alternate source for the songs.

I wish those mini-CDs, the ones that were only ~3 inches wide and had a 20-minute capacity, had survived. They were the closest thing to real 45s that ever came out: The single and the B-side, for ~$3, just a bit more costly than the vinyl 45 (since CDs were still new then and they were ::ahem:: "amortizing their costs). But then SoundScan came along and literally destroyed top 40 music in one week, so hardly anyone wanted singles any more. Sigh.
posted by aaron at 11:30 AM on February 26, 2001

Why can't the RIAA provide the figures for regular CD sales?

Because that would show that sales went up?
posted by aaron at 11:31 AM on February 26, 2001

My personal rate of CD purchases has fallen, not because of Napster but because the damn things cost way too much. I remember when they said that the outrageous $15-20 prices for CDs would fall as production techniques improved and volume increased. Ha, right.

Well, screw 'em. The demise of packaged music is now inevitable. I look forward to the day I put on my wireless Bluetooth headset and tune my holographic PDA/phone/GPS/modem/watch to my music subscription service to hear selections from my personal favorites list.
posted by Tubes at 11:44 AM on February 26, 2001

Show of hands ... has anyone here bought a CD single ever?
posted by rcade at 11:50 AM on February 26, 2001

when are they going to get it right and stop saying napster is a popular "website" to trade music. It's no such thing, the client application seems to be the only thing traded from the website.
posted by winterdrm at 11:56 AM on February 26, 2001

Here's the most shocking part of this story: Slashdot actually wrote a good article about it. Yes, that's right, I used the words "slashdot" and "good article" in the same sentence ... and I was serious!
posted by Potsy at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2001

I've bought CD singles for bands I was passionate about and had to hear the B-side. It's a total rip-off, and thank God Napster has righted this wrong by allowing fans to hear b-sides and alternate takes without having to shell out half the cost of the actual album.
posted by cell divide at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2001

aaron: if you live near one, check out Fry's (or I'm sure you can find them online somewhere. If anyone has/does, lemme know). They have the 3" cd's, blank. Holds about 50 mb, if I remember correctly. Fun for extra portable music, short cd mix for your sweety, or mailing large files to people who don't have broadband. Enjoy.
posted by Hackworth at 12:04 PM on February 26, 2001

I bought a few CD singles in my time. The second CD I ever bought was a single in fact, TMBG's Don't let's start in 88 I think. I think the format is popular in Japan, I see and get Japanese noise bands/electro stuff with some regularity.

I really don't trust those little business card CD's tho, there is something about the lawnmower blade shape that makes me think they are going to bust out of my drive and slice up my ribbon cable etc.
posted by thirteen at 12:09 PM on February 26, 2001

I bought a CD single once, in 1993, of the song that was "our song", as a Valentine's Day gift for my eleventh-grade boyfriend. But then the bastard stood me up---V-day being one day before I was moving to another state, no less---and I returned the hell out of that stinking CD on my way out of town. :D
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:14 PM on February 26, 2001

I've purchased CD singles as well. I especially sought out those produced by a certain band who had a propensity for including only one version of the feature song, then alternate versions of three additional songs that were not available on any other commercial recording.

The trouble with CD singles not only came with SoundScan but when record companies thought that they could get away with giving consumers the same thing that they gave the radio stations, in order to cut costs. The three or four version of the same song bit was strictly a for-radio commodity at the outset, then slowly but surely wondered into retail stores. No one liked them, no one bought them, and the format died. As far as I know, record companies have pretty much stopped making multi-track CD singles even for radio, unless a song requires a "radio edit" for language or length.
posted by Dreama at 12:19 PM on February 26, 2001

has anyone here bought a CD single ever?

Sure. Both U2 and They Might Be Giants often release good ones, with both the single and four to six good B-side/unreleased tracks. You can often get some excellent live tracks from U2's singles as well as interesting B-sides and covers that don't make the albums. I think they're a great deal when packaged like that and not just two mixes of the same song (or worse, the old cassingles that had the same song on both sides... actually I suppose it's my friend who loved to play those all the time who was at fault...). But that form is really an EP, not a "single" per se.

That said, there aren't enough EPs, dammit!
posted by daveadams at 12:25 PM on February 26, 2001

Slashdot has an excellent rebuttal to the press release basically saying, "Liars!"
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:31 PM on February 26, 2001

Hmmm... I've bought plenty of EPs, and the last CD I bought came out of the "Import Singles" bin, but it is a CD with six different songs on it rather than many versions of one song.

As for those CDs that have the album version, the radio edit, the intrumental version, the version with just the backing vocals, the version where the singer plays the kazoo instead of sings... nah.
posted by jennyb at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2001

The word "cassingle" just makes me shudder.
posted by jennyb at 12:38 PM on February 26, 2001

I stopped buying CDs because they're too expensive and only a third of the songs on a CD are worth anything. Napster's real value is as a tool for locating obscure songs (like that song that plays during the end credits of that film you saw ten years ago). You would never buy the whole album that song is on, so what does the RIAA care? The RIAA has been screwing us with a crappy delivery format that was crappy from day one.
posted by fleener at 12:39 PM on February 26, 2001

Slashdot has an excellent rebuttal to the press release basically saying, "Liars!"

lies...damn lies...statistics...
posted by Avogadro at 12:49 PM on February 26, 2001

According to these articles (wired, zdnet) sales of full-length CD's were up in 2000. Early on, the RIAA tried to show a decrease in sales by only using data from record stores, which failed to account for sales by online merchants. Now, the strategy is to use data related to CD singles only. This strategy probably won't work in court, but may play well in the court of public opinion.
posted by gimli at 12:49 PM on February 26, 2001

CD singles are popular in Japan partially because full-length CDs sell for about $30. Of course, CD prices in the US are starting to get almost that high...
I loved the Smashing Pumpkins' B-sides from "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," and bought all the singles. Then they had to bring out the "Aeroplane Flies High" box set...and I bought the singles all over again. Oh, to be an obsessive teenager with money again...
posted by Jeanne at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2001

gah! no kidding on the smashing pumpkins thing. i must have personally financed billy corgan's daily head shine back in 8th grade.

and they might be giants do great singles, yeah. but when have they ever been in line with the rest of the recording industry? besides, those are more EPs.. the sexxy single is the closest to an actual *single* that i've seen out of them.
posted by pikachulolita at 1:16 PM on February 26, 2001

I buy a lot of CD Singles. I like them, mostly because I like pop music and am aware that most albums are packed with filler, be it money-making shill filler or sub-par 'artistic' filler. Why bother sitting through 60+ minutes of indulgence when all you're after is one song?

Napster has focussed my CD-Single buying rather than wiped it out. The money I save by downloading a Backstreet Boys track is the money I spend on some EP on Tugboat or Domino.

Also of course I live in a country where the Top 40 is based on what people actually buy, rather than what radio stations play, and hence one where singles are actually released, generally at low prices due to record company dodginess.

It's also worth pointing out that some genres - dance and hip-hop and variants in particular - have historically been driven by singles, not albums. 12" singles, admittedly, but often CD versions come out too.
posted by freakytrigger at 1:25 PM on February 26, 2001

i buy tons of singles.

i have nothing else to contribute.
posted by corpse at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2001

Thanks Potsy for the Slashdot article. It's got a link to the RIAA's actual PDF spreadsheet of figures. And if you take a look at it, you'll see that, yes, CD singles are down by 35.8% in dollar value, but CD sales are UP by 3.1% in dollar value.

... Am I missing something here? Shouldn't the title of the article be CD Sales up? Just another case of mass media taking a company's word for their press release, and not actually seeing if they're telling the truth. I'm no journalist, but, ethically, or professionally, aren't you supposed to check secondary sources before you publish?

The article is so poorly summarized (the Salon/AP Wire one is slightly better) the RIAA could have easily said "Music sales down by 91%" and nobody would have checked to see that they're referring to cassingle sales.
posted by gramcracker at 1:37 PM on February 26, 2001

I'll buy singles if there's weird/rare b-sides. Otherwise I only buy albums. And I don't listen to just the songs I want to hear. I listen to the album as a whole.
I'm an elitist music bigot, but hey, you know..
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:39 PM on February 26, 2001

Freaky---how do you think US radio stations come up with their playlists?

By looking at what people are buying, and playing more of that!

Incestuous as it gets, god knows, and once you throw in big labels with all the marketing money in the world to push their mediocre mass-pop acts, it's easy to see why neither radio ratings nor sales figures have *any* relation to what's *good*.

(i tried to come up with a link or two to substantiate my scandalous allegation, since I know I've read some stuff on that very topic fairly recently, but after two-point-three minutes of diligent searching, couldn't hit upon the goods.)
posted by Sapphireblue at 2:11 PM on February 26, 2001

Sapphireblue - oh certainly, my point was just that a sales-based chart gives companies a reason to release the things!

I prefer the UK charts, because there's a lot of movement and all sorts of room for surprises - novelty hits, children's records, records the press hypes into the charts, absurd 'chart battles' - it's just such fun! And I also trust the public's taste more than I don't: given the choice between hyped poptune A and hyped poptune B they will tend to pick the better. Obviously I'd be a bit of an idiot if I only listened to the charts!
posted by freakytrigger at 2:23 PM on February 26, 2001

I have a couple EP singles I bought. Actually, it was from MP3s that I found the various versions of P Gabriel or U2 songs. It was only off that I could find them as they were not being sold any longer.

I try to leave a note for anybody I download an MP3 from as you are legally able to "share" music with friends. The RIAA drives me crazy as I have over 1,000 CDs and albums and they try to say I can not down load something I own or may like to own.
posted by vanderwal at 2:28 PM on February 26, 2001

Those RIAA statistics linked in the Slashdot article make fascinating reading. By their own account, they failed to get the CD-single format selling in great numbers until 1995 - twelve years after CDs were introduced - when units shipped were up 130% on the previous year. Even after dropping significantly from the highs of 1997-99, 2000 sales were fifty percent higher than 1995's, and there sure aren't fifty percent more teenagers out there than there were five years ago.

A more significant comparison than CD single sales alone is between 1999 and 2000 total album sales versus total single sales (all formats - CD, cassette, vinyl). On their figures, it's true that there was a fall: 1065.4 million albums sold in 1999, 1020.7 in 2000; 61 million singles in 1999, 37.7 million in 2000. In dollar terms, the fall was more modest: $13,909.7 million from albums in 1999 compared to $13,868.2 million in 2000; $298.3 million from singles in '99 to $173.6 million in 2000 (a tiny percentage of the value of album sales, either way).

When you look at the early 1990s figures their chart shows just how significant a difference a weak or strong music year can make. Total album sales increased by about 10% from 1991 to 1992, an extra billion dollars worth, on the back of the grunge explosion. 1993-94 was such a strong year that sales of cassette and vinyl albums - both of which were on a long-term downward trend as CDs came into their own - actually increased, and CD sales increased by a third in unit terms, or almost two billion dollars.

They've had the same dream run throughout the 1990s, and 2000 album sales were still only slightly down on 1999, in a year when hardly any album other than 'Kid A' caught the public's imagination.

If they're so hung up on tracking downward shifts in total units sold or their dollar value, why stop at 1999-2000? How about that awful drought in 1996-97, when total units fell 6.5%, or 2.4% in dollar terms (worse than last year's dollar-value fall)?

Must have been because of all that FTP file-trading of scratchy low-bitrate WAVs. Must have been.
posted by rory at 2:34 PM on February 26, 2001

To be fair to the recording industry flacks who promised CD prices would come down, CD prices in constant dollars have in fact fallen significantly since the format was introduced. At discounters (like Best Buy or online retailers) they're typically under $15, sometimes by a buck or two. I remember paying $7-8 for LPs back in the early '80s; surely $13-14 for a CD represents about the same real cost nearly twenty years later. And, of course, the CD format is more convenient and sounds much better (unless you paid more for your turntable than sane people pay for cars).
posted by kindall at 3:39 PM on February 26, 2001

like corpse I must confess that I buy plenty of CD singles, many of them on import at $10-30 a piece. most of the time when I buy singles its either because I am a fan of the artist putting out the CD, the CD contains a fair number of remixes, or because it contains rare material that i feel the need to get my hands on.

most of what i use napster for is getting my hands on fan remixes, various bootlegs, whitelabel mixes, and acapella's, most of which will never be found in record stores anyway. i know that i have made numerous CD (single and full-length) purchases based on obscure whitelabel/fan mixes i run across on napster (basement jaxx, york, fragma, etc.)

but i digress, though i buy singles most of my friends look at me funny when i go to the local record store and walk out with six new singles and no full length albums. i know that the CD single (at least in the states) is quite the dying format. ironically, the single format in the states doesn't have the same restrictions that it does in say the UK where CD singles are limited to three (or under some circumstances four) tracks. it amazes me that people on the other side of the pond still buy singles with such regularity when they are shelling out the equivalent of $5-7 for three tracks where in the states we will get as many as nine remixes on a single for the same price.
posted by darainwa at 4:11 PM on February 26, 2001

No. I have never bought a CD single. Though I do have a couple of cassette singles (all Queen related).
posted by davidgentle at 10:13 PM on February 26, 2001

i *used* to buy CDs all the time. now that the value the music industry is providing is rapidly approaching zero (while they expect their profits to remain constant or increase) i find it extremely hard to fork over *any* amount of money to them. it's just wrong to buy CDs now. i mean, mankind has pretty much *solved* the whole music recording and delivery problem. you can do it for a nickel. which means that the problem with the music *industry* is that it's all just a big waste now. they're in the way. they're like a carriage manufacturer that's trying to legislate the use of buggy whips. the manufacturing and distribution of music is now a solved problem. which means that now it's all about the artists. given all this, i just can't give my money to a bunch of highwaymen. on principle. i haven't bought a cd since i realized this... years now. i don't plan to ever again.

posted by muppetboy at 10:43 PM on February 26, 2001

I find it funny that no one ever mentions IRC when discussing Napster and the RIAA. Like fleener said :"Napster's real value is as a tool for locating obscure songs (like that song that plays during the end credits of that film you saw ten years ago). " I can't really think of anyone who uses Napster to download anything other than obscure songs, ones that are live or from a movie or that you can't find anywhere to buy. But IRC...people almost always download the entire album. Depending on their connection speed they quite often get several in one day. And it isn't just obscure or indy music either. It's music like Korn, Britney, Nine Inch Nails, and many others. Of course IRC is also usually the place you can find full length as of yet unreleased movies for download as well.
posted by crushed at 11:33 PM on February 26, 2001

Screw the industry. Once they're completely dead (the shaft is already in, which is why they're so pissed), we can buy music from individual artists.

posted by Twang at 3:01 AM on February 27, 2001

crushed, I used to use Napster to download entire albums. I don't use it at all anymore (wah, the "network" is "overloaded," wah wah wah... Napster isn't "official business"... blah blah blah ;)).

Or there are users like my Dad who download everything and anything, even if there's no chance they'll be able to listen to it all. He filled up a 45GB hard drive in a few weeks and has since burned that collection to 60 or so CDRs so he can continue building the collection. When he finds a user with a fast connection, he goes to the hotlist and queues up their entire collection. Now I know where I get my obsessive tendencies! :)

But if I'm ever looking for an MP3 I can't find, there's a pretty good chance my Dad has it.
posted by daveadams at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2001

I've bought CD singles before; usually, it's been when an artist I typically hated miraculously released a song that I couldn't live without. In this way, I acquired treasures such as Bjork's "Big Time Sensuality," Madonna's "Ray of Light," and Tori Amos' "Spark" without the accompanying dross of their entire respective albums. (My opinion alone, of course . . . please don't yell at me.)
posted by Skot at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2001

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