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CD sales' abysmal year

Josh_groban_noel The year-end sales numbers for the music industry came out last week, and they were even more grim than expected. So I have to admit, I was wrong a year ago when I said:

We seemed to have reached the point now where digital sales have grown enough to fill the void left by slumping plastic-disc sales. And if the growth continues at anything close to the current rate -- downloadable albums doubled to 32.6 million, and downloadable tracks increased 65% to 582 million -- total sales of albums and songs in the U.S. might actually (gasp) grow.

Yeah, I feel pretty stupid now. CD sales were down so much in 2007, even when you included digital album sales the total was 15% below the previous year's numbers. Throwing in digital singles doesn't help much, either, despite a 45% increase there: the total for CDs, digital albums and digital album equivalents (i.e., each group of 10 downloadable singles) was 9.5% below the corresponding figure for 2006.

We can all speculate about the reasons for the accelerating slide, although I'm not inclined to blame the artists. Every year I think there's an incredible amount of great music being produced, albeit mostly by independents, and last year was no exception. Instead, I'll refer you to some great number-crunching by Bob Lefsetz. In a nutshell, the problem for this hits-dependent industry is that the hits just ain't as big anymore.

-- Jon Healey

The photo of "Noel" by Josh Groban, the top-selling album of 2007, is courtesy of Groban's website.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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