During the last years album sales have continued to decline radically. The BPI just released new numbers in its 2016 report – album sales have dropped from 137.8 million in 2007 to 47.3 million in 2016. This raises the question if albums as a music distribution format are still the best way to go.
Many people may argue that there’s still a large market for albums – after all vinyl sales have risen 52.6% to 3.2 million in 2016 and UK artists like Adele, Coldplay and David Bowie continue to be highly successful at releasing music as albums. And there’s absolutely no doubt that there is a market for established artists and highly engaged listeners, who appreciate listening to an album and are happy to wait for about two or three years for new music. But there’s no way around re-thinking the album format, when it comes to strategies to break new artists in the digital age and to serve the needs of digital natives.
The three best selling albums of 2016 are compilation albums. Compilations have always been successful, but as music streaming becomes more and more popular, young people, especially digital natives – the first generation that was born in the digital age and grew up in it (Prensky) – are more likely to listen to a playlist on one of these services than to go to a music store to buy a compilation album. There’s no doubt about that. Simply the enormous amount of playlist choices on a streaming service can’t be exceeded.
As Ingham points out the average age of the Top 10 UK album artist’s of 2016 is 44. So were are all the new, young artists? This should be enough of an indicator to realise breaking a newcomer in the age of streaming services can not be done the traditional way anymore. The attention span of young listeners declines constantly as there is an unbelievable amount of content available online and artists and record labels need to find a way to channel and keep their attention.