Thursday, March 18, 2004

Forget the spin! It's a record record.

The Australian recording industry should be congratulating itself. Both for pushing CD sales to an all-time record high and for keeping this fact out of the initial news reports.

The announcement from ARIA is (perhaps deliberately) hard to read.

For one thing, there are no comparisons with past sales going back more than a year.

But late last year ARIA blessed me with a spreadsheet showing sales by category going back to 1982.

Reading that, together with its latest press release, it is clear that:

Total sales (in all formats) climbed to a record high in 2003: 65.6 million, easily topping the previous record of 63.9 million set in 2001.

And the sales of actual CD albums climbed above 50 million for the first time (well above 50 million actually).

It's a real cause for celebration. Back before the advent of Napster and home CD burning the industry was selling fewer than 40 million CD albums per year...

In its announcement ARIA makes much of a decline in the sales of its (reportedly unprofitable) CD singles - down from 11.3 million to 9.4 million.

But if the industry reflected for a moment - it might see this as a good thing. CD singles were never an end in themselves. They were a promotional device - designed to feed listeners into buying the entire album.

Music downloads may be (slowly) replacing the CD single in this role.

They appear to do it much better (creating record sales of CD albums) - at virtually no cost to the record companies themselves!

The industry has fought, it has screamed, it has arrested, it has litigated. But it may just be stuck with the best device for promoting its product it never wanted invented.

See also: Forget the Spin, SMH 30.12.03.