Adele, and her foe streaming, lift 2015 music sales

Thursday January 7 2016

Singer Adele cries as she accepts her Grammy for Album of the Year at the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, February 12, 2012. The rapid growth of streaming and sensational success of Adele triggered a rebound of overall music consumption last year in the United States and Britain, industry trackers said Wednesday. PHOTO | FILE

Singer Adele cries as she accepts her Grammy for Album of the Year at the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, February 12, 2012. The rapid growth of streaming and sensational success of Adele triggered a rebound of overall music consumption last year in the United States and Britain, industry trackers said Wednesday. PHOTO | FILE 

By AFP
More by this Author

NEW YORK

The rapid growth of streaming and sensational success of Adele triggered a rebound of overall music consumption last year in the United States and Britain, industry trackers said Wednesday.

The growth came despite a persistent fall in CD sales and a growing decline in digital downloads on service such as iTunes as consumers turn to online streaming services and their unlimited, on-demand selection.

US music consumption rose 15.2 percent in 2015 from a year earlier to 549.4 million albums or their digital equivalent, reversing a decline in 2014, Nielsen Music said in an annual report.

British music consumption also reversed a slump, with album equivalent sales rising 3.7 percent, according to data released separately Wednesday by the British Phonographic Industry trade association.

Both the United States and Britain, the world's largest and fourth-largest music markets respectively, saw streaming volumes nearly double as new competitors such as Apple Music and Jay Z's Tidal helped expand a sector led by Sweden's Spotify.

Music streams went up 92.8 percent year-on-year to 317.2 billion songs in the United States and rose by 81.7 percent in Britain.

"You're going to continue to see the types of growth that we've been seeing for a long time to come, I think," said David Bakula, Nielsen's senior vice president of industry insights.

BILLIONS OF STREAMS

Nielsen looks at consumption and not directly at revenue — which is a major sore point for many artists who argue that their compensation from streaming is puny.

Industry bodies will report detailed figures on profits in the coming months.

Bakula said that the Nielsen data showed a growing industry in net terms.

"People have been conditioned to look at album numbers for so long as the health of the industry," he said.

"Down six percent" — the year's decline in total album sales without factoring in streaming — "doesn't sound as bad when you add in" billions of streams, he said.

Yet leading the way in 2015's rebound was one of the few artists to reject streaming — Adele.

Backed by public anticipation due to a more than four-year wait since her previous album, Adele's "25" enjoyed the biggest first-week sales on record in the United States and Britain.

"25," full of ballads of heartache and childhood nostalgia, was by far the top-selling album in both countries for the year even though it came out on November 20.

Nielsen said its research found that about one-third of US consumers planned to buy "25," with around 20 percent of them not generally music consumers. 

Yet even with its record-breaking numbers, "25" accounted for just 3.1 percent of US album sales for the year, meaning Adele-mania likely had knock-on effects.

NICHE GENRES

"I think the impact, beyond just the sales part of it, is the fact that people were talking about it — people who are not your traditional music buyers," Bakula said.

Another steep source of growth, but on a much smaller scale than streaming, is its low-tech foil — vinyl, which has enjoyed a rebirth led by collectors.

Vinyl sales rose by nearly 30 percent in the United States and shot up by more than 64 percent in Britain.

Nielsen found disparities in format choices based on genre.

More than half of US listeners to Latin music or electronica were streaming, while physical sales were particularly strong among buyers of jazz, classical, children's or holiday-oriented music.

Pop star Taylor Swift's "1989," the top US album in 2014, was the second best-seller last year, beating out Justin Bieber's new work "Purpose."

On Britain's full-year chart, Adele was followed by Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith — two recent English stars whose albums came out in 2014 — while fourth place went to the late Elvis Presley. His album, "If I Can Dream," features archival recordings of The King accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.