Are 10,000 Albums the New Bar For Success?

Are 10,000 Albums the New Bar For Success?

Last year’s music sales were … um, dismal. And not to kick an already flailing music industry, but the numbers look even worse in context: when adjusted for inflation, with the former 45% decline in the last decade turning into a 64% tail-spin!

While we’re at bad news, how about this one: only 1,215 albums sold more than 10,000 copies last year! That is a 20% decline in just TWO YEARS!

Here are some details from the report:

The incredibly-shrinking album is forcing everyone to adapt. But why can’t artists even sell 10,000 units anymore? Especially when top-line album sales are still in the billions?

At New Music Seminar in LA on Tuesday, another stunning stat surfaced. Last year, just 1,215 albums sold more than 10,000 units in the US. Here’s what the last three years looked like, according to the presented figures:

o Albums selling more than 10,000 units in 2010: 1,215
o Albums selling more than 10,000 units in 2009: 1,319
o Albums selling more than 10,000 units in 2008: 1,515

Wow … these are some pretty stunning numbers. As noted, we have Eminem and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry selling more than 10,000,000 records between them, and everyone else fighting for scraps. I suppose that would go with the winner-take-all approach the record labels have adopted: if you narrow your investments you narrow your exposure. You can also more easily buy the top chart positions and top sales locations and so on when it is a fewer artists you are pushing. Same also for videos and other promotional expenses.

Since I listen to music that tends to mark 10,000 units sold as ‘mainstream success’, I was stunned that there weren’t many more popular records breaking that figure. So I dug around for some more breakdown of the numbers. I couldn’t find anything yet for 2010 but found the following 2009 figures:

“Albums that sold at least one copy in 2009: 98,000
Albums selling more than 10,000 units in 2009: 1,319
Albums selling more than 10,000 units in 2008: 1,515
Albums selling more than 250,000 units in 2009: 85
Albums selling more than 250,000 units in 2001: 214
Albums selling more than 5,000 units in 2009: 2,058
Albums selling under than 1,000 units in their first year of release: 92,601
Number of albums selling less than 100 copies in 2009: 81,000”

Looking at those numbers is nothing short of jaw-dropping. 98,000 is close enough to 100,000 to just use everything as percents. So of the 100,000 new records that sold at least one copy in 2010, only 17% sold more than 100 copies and a mere 5.5% sold more than 1000 copies!

The news doesn’t get any better … ~2% sold more than 5000 copies, and a paltry 0.085% sold more than 250,000 copies! And based on my earlier article on how much artists earn, assuming a ‘high end royalty deal’ that would mean that only 85 artists made more than $250,000 or more based on album sales! Sure we know that the market has shifted to singles, but since the earnings per sale of those are <10% of an album, it just shows how few people are ‘living the rock star life’.

In fact, looking at that same chart … only slightly more than 2000 artists made more than minimum wage through album sales in 2010. That is a sad statistic, but reflects the reality of a music industry that is eating itself as it continues counter-productive anti-piracy tactics that are also anti-consumer, and has circled the wagons around a few non-creative easily packaged and sold ‘Johnny Bravos’. In fact, let’s close this out by looking back on the original ‘guy who fit the suit’, from season 5 of the Brady Bunch!

About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!