Nielsen Explains 2008

The Nielsen Company released 2008 numbers based on its point-of-sale data collection operations by Nielsen SoundScan (music sales), Nielsen BDS (music performance) and Nielsen RingScan (ringtones), providing good and bad news for weary music biz execs working to shepherd their industry through the digital revolution.

Among the good news is the more than 200 million bump in overall music sales, encompassing units sold for albums, singles, music videos and digital track sales, with 2008 representing a 10.5 percent increase, or 1.51 billion sold compared with 2007’s 1.37 billion. This is the fourth consecutive year consumers purchased more than 1 billion music units, with each year since 2005 experiencing an increase over the previous year.

Digital tracks broke the 1 billion benchmark for the first time ever, with 1.07 billion sold in 2008, representing a 27 percent increase over 2007, when music fans purchased 844.2 million track downloads.

Digital album sales reached an all-time high for 2008, with 65.8 million units sold, a 32 percent increase over 2007’s 50 million.

On the gloomy side, overall album sales – albums and track equivalent albums – experienced an 8.5 percent decline from 2007, with 2008 resulting in 535.4 million sold in 2008 compared with 584.9 million sold in 2007. There was also an 8.6 percent decrease in online sales of physical albums, with 2008 figures showing 27.5 million sold compared with 2007’s 30.1 million sold.

In fact, 2008 wasn’t that great a year for album sales. Total album sales – CDs, CS, LP and digital albums – dropped 14 percent with 2008 showing 428.4 million units sold while 2007 resulted in 500.5 million sold.

Nielsen also points out the last week of the year resulted in several new digital track sales records. Digital track sales for the final days of 2008 surpassed 47.7 million, beating 2007’s 42.9 million sold for the last week of that year.

Digital album sales for the last week of 2008 also beat the last week of 2007, with 2.4 million versus 2007’s 1.9 million.

Record company executives will also remember 2008 as the first time a digital song broke the 3 million sales mark in a single year. What’s more, this happened not once but twice during the year, with Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” generating sales of 3.4 million and 3.2 million respectively.

The ladies continue to dominate the best-selling digital artist slot. In 2008 that honor went to Rihanna with nearly 10 million track sales, compared with Fergie’s 7.5 million track sales in 2007.

Vinyl sales also saw an increase. In fact, more vinyl albums were purchased in 2008 than any other year in the history of Nielsen SoundScan. Music fans purchased 1.88 million LPs in 2008, compared with just less than 1 million in 2007. The previous record for vinyl was established in 2000 when consumers purchased 1.5 million long-playing platters. What’s more, Nielsen SoundScan reports that two out of every three vinyl sales took place at indie record stores.

Speaking of albums, the best selling Internet album of the year honor goes to Metallica, with the band’s latest – Death Magnetic – generating 144,000 units sold via online commerce sites.

Photo: William Vasta
Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario, Calif.

Of course, we’ve only highlighted a few of the Nielsen Company’s more interesting numbers for 2008. The complete report can be viewed by clicking here.