Torrentfreak: More Music Sold Than Ever Before, Despite Piracy

More Music Sold Than Ever Before, Despite Piracy

Written by Ernesto on January 10, 2011

Last week the BPI released their overview of 2010 sales volumes in the UK.
As always, their press release was filled with claims that piracy is
ruining their industry and most mainstream media was quick to republish
this propaganda. However, we can use the very same data to show that more
music is being sold than ever before, and argue that piracy is likely to
have had very little impact.

The PR people within the music industry are masters of spin. They can take
any type of data and make the public believe that piracy is killing their
business. For years they have fought against this imaginary enemy, and
every press release issued is filled with complaints about illegal

We’re not going to argue about the exact impact of piracy in this article,
but we do want to balance out the music industry’s propaganda a little bit.
By doing so we hope to show that the music industry isn’t doing so badly as
they claim. In fact, year after year more music is being sold.

What’s changing is the type of music consumers buy, and this change is
driving revenue down. The question, however, is whether piracy has anything
to do with this change. We doubt it, and we’re going to show why.

Let’s start off with some key figures published by the BPI last week
regarding UK music sales. Unlike some news outlets claimed, these are not
revenue figures but actually the number of units sold, counting both
digital and physical albums and singles.

In 2010 the BPI reports that there were 281.7 million units sold, which is
an all-time record. Never in the history of recorded music have so many
pieces of music been sold, but you wont hear the music industry shouting
about that. In fact, the music industry is selling more music year after
year and today’s figure is up 27% compared to the 221.6 million copies sold
in 2006.

But, instead of praising the increasing consumer demand for music, the
industry cuts up the numbers and prefers to focus on the evil enemy called
piracy. By doing so they spin their message in a way that makes it appear
that piracy is cannibalizing music sales. But is it?

In their press release the BPI points out that album sales overall were
down by 7%. Although digital album sales were up 30.6%, physical CDs were
down by 12.4%. If we believe the music industry, this drop in sales of
physical CDs can be solely attributed to piracy. This is an interesting
conclusion, because one would expect that piracy would mostly have an
effect on digital sales.

We have a different theory.

Could it be that album sales have been declining over recent years because
people now have the ability to buy single tracks? If someone likes three
tracks from an album he or she no longer has to buy the full album,
something that was unimaginable 10 years ago.

This theory would also fit the sales patterns of the last few years, where
album sales are down year after year while the number of individual tracks
sold is increasing rapidly. In 2010 the UK music industry sold 161.8
million singles (digital and physical) compared to 66.9 million in 2006.
Where does piracy fit in here?

Could it possibly be that piracy is only affecting album sales and not
single sales? Would that make sense?

Or could it be that the consumption habits of the average music consumer
have changed in the last decade? You never hear the music industry talk
about the digital music revolution where an entire generation of people
have never even owned a CD. To these people the album concept doesn’t mean
as much as it does to older generations.

I’d hate to break the news to all the suits in the music business but the
CD is dying, and the album is dying with it. Sure, the true music
enthusiast will appreciate the art that a well orchestrated album is, but
the masses are increasingly spending their money on singles. The album has
lost much of it’s appeal and function to the iPod generation.

And that’s the problem.

The digital revolution in music and the consumer shift from albums to
singles described above is hurting the industry’s revenue. Despite the fact
that more music is being sold, revenue is shrinking because consumers
prefer singles over full albums. And if someone buys 6 single tracks
instead of a full album, this means usually that less money is coming in.

This change is mostly being felt by the managers and employees at record
labels, and not as much by artists. Since album and single sales are just a
small fraction of the artists’ yearly income, and with attendances of live
performances being up, the artists are doing great.

We’re not here to argue that piracy has no effect on sales at all, positive
or negative, but we do want to point out that the music industry might be
chasing a ghost while they ignore the big elephant in the room. The music
industry isn’t dying, it’s evolving.

Anti-Piracy, Opinion, Pirate Talk
Peace, Steve