Album Filler The Real Reason For Declining Music Sales

As People Switch To Digital Music, They Buy The Hits And Skip The Filler      03/12/09

Album Filler The Real Reason For Declining Music Sales

Buying Choices

Despite what the major music labels may want you to think, it's not piracy that's killing album sales, it's album "filler".

According to Professor Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School, people are buying fewer albums because they're buying digital singles and skipping songs they consider to be filler.

Elberse researched what happens when people start buying digital music. She found that, as consumers switch to digital downloads, they "cherry pick" individual songs instead of purchasing entire albums.

Highlights of her study:

  • A drop of about one-third of the total weekly sales of an album and its songs can be tied to consumers switching from physical to digital formats.
  • For every 1% increase in the downloading rate, there is a 6% decrease in album sales and a 9% increase in single track sales per bundle of an artist's music. That means that as more people start buying digital music, they spend less money by buying fewer albums and more tracks.
  • Albums that have one or two standout tracks are more susceptible to cherry picking than albums with songs of more even quality.

Is The Album Obsolete?

Elberse's research also suggests that we should rethink the idea of making the album the standard unit for music releases.

"Labels should rethink the essence of a bundle," according to Elberse. "Digital channels give labels great flexibility to try alternative formats. My results show that giving preference to quality over quantity and designing smaller, more consistent bundles may be beneficial."

What do you think? Are you buying singles and skipping the album filler? And does digital music make the album obsolete?


James Lewin
Twitter @podcasting_news


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