On two separate year long-stints -- including one stretch after I had returned to my native West Virginia when my initial internship with Baeble ended in 2012 -- I worked for one of the major physical music/movie retail chains. I'm not going to name the business, but you know them. They're in practically every mall in the country. And during my initial stint with the company -- way back in those halcyon years of my youth known as 2010/11 -- I learned one valuable lesson. Music doesn't sell like it used to.
My boss at that company had been working for the business for nearly a decade when I first began (and it's well over a decade now. And he would constantly bemoan how much more difficult his job had become in the age of streaming services and digital piracy. Minus Adele's 21
which is a monstrous sales behemoth unlike any of its contemporaries, it's easy to paint the difference in sales. In 2000, *NSYNC's No Strings Attached
sold roughly 10 million copies (via MTV News
), and it was the highest selling album of that year. In 2013, the highest selling record was *NSYNC veteran Justin Timberlake's excellent The 20/20 Experience
. It sold less than 2.5 million copies (via Billboard
). Timberlake only sold just over a fifth of the records he'd sold 15 years prior, and Taylor Swift's 3.6 million for 1989
last year is only slighly more impressive.
The first thing I noticed about music sales when I worked for that company was that young people weren't buying CDs anymore. Minus the biggest releases of any given year (which was Eminimen's Recovery
my first go around), I almost never saw teenagers/people in their 20s buying records until the vinyl resurgence exploded on to the scene a couple years ago. And why the hell would we? I pay $10 a month for unlimited access to Spotify without commercial interruptions. That's $120 a year. If you listen to more than 12 records a year that only cost $10 -- which let's face it; new albums are never that cheap -- it's paid for itself. And, beyond that, you have access to an essentially infinite collection of old music.
New information from the Recording Industry Association of America
shows that 2014 was the first year where streaming services generated more revenue than physical CD sales. I'm honestly surprised it took this long. Vinyl is making a comeback because of the higher quality than CDs, and vinyl records have a collector's appeal. If you're buying an album on vinyl, you're saying you want to own this record for a long time. If you buy an album on CD, you're either over 35 years old or you're saying you want to physically misplace this record in the near future and then get pissed off and have to buy it again.
Streaming services can be highly problematic. The fact that artists are making less than a penny per play for their songs is sort of actively evil. I would 100% be willing to pay more a month so that musicians could make a fair wage off of streaming services. But, going back to the CD isn't the answer, and there's no way it's ever going to happen. The CD has been dying for nearly a decade now, and this news is a priest coming into the CD's hospital room to perform its final rites before the CD dies. Give it six years, and I will be so surprised if the physical retail company that I worked for and which has been around for almost twenty years now will still be in business. Whether it's Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, or piracy, physical media entertainment is on the way out.