Apple Store“To the regret of music labels everywhere… fans are buying fewer and fewer full albums. In the shift from CDs to digital music, buyers can now pick the individual songs they like without having to pay upward of $10 for an album,” Jeff Leeds reports for The New York TImes.

Leeds reports, “Last year, digital singles outsold plastic CD’s for the first time. So far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent, to roughly 189 million units, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales are rising at a slightly faster pace, but buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.”

“Because of this shift in listener preferences — a trend reflected everywhere from blogs posting select MP3s to reviews of singles in Rolling Stone — record labels are coming to grips with the loss of the album as their main product and chief moneymaker. In response, labels are re-examining everything from their marketing practices to their contracts. One result is that offers are cropping up for artists… to record only ring tones or a clutch of singles, according to talent managers and lawyers,” Leeds reports.

Leeds reports, “At the same time, the industry is straining to shore up the album as long as possible, in part by prodding listeners who buy one song to purchase the rest of a collection. Apple, in consultation with several labels, has been planning to offer iTunes users credit for songs they have already purchased if they then choose to buy the associated album in a certain period of time, according to people involved in the negotiations. (Under Apple’s current practice, customers who buy a song and then the related album effectively pay for the song twice).”

Leeds reports, “But some analysts say they doubt that such promotions can reverse the trend. ‘I think the album is going to die,’ said Aram Sinnreich, managing partner at Radar Research, a media consulting firm based in Los Angeles. ‘Consumers are listening to play lists,’ or mixes of single songs from an assortment of different artists. ‘Consumers who have had iPods since they were in the single digits are going to increasingly gravitate toward artists who embrace that.'”

“A decade ago, the music industry had all but stopped selling music in individual units. But now, four years after Apple introduced its iTunes service — selling singles for 99 cents apiece and full albums typically for $9.99 — individual songs account for roughly two-thirds of all music sales volume in the United States,” Leeds reports. “One of the biggest reasons for the shift, analysts say, is that consumers — empowered to cherry-pick — are forgoing album purchases after years of paying for complete CD’s with too few songs they like.”

Full article here.

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