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Marketplace Morning Report

Music album sales at historic low

Steve Henn Jan 20, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: Topping the charts in the music business used to mean something back in the day. Not so much anymore. This week, the number one Billboard spot goes to an album by the alternative rock band Cake — having sold just 44,000 copies. That’s the saddest showing ever for a number one album.

Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: After taking a six-year break, the band Cake produced its latest album, “Showroom of Compassion,” in its own solar-powered studio. It released the record on its own label and it shot to the top of the charts.

And that’s a bad sign for big labels. Mark Mulligan is an analyst with Forrester Research in Britain. He says these record breakingly bad sales figures are just the latest sign this industry is dying.

Mark Mulligan: People are listening to more music now across the more platforms and devices than any stage previously. What has changed is that people aren’t paying for it in the way that they used to.

CD sales have collapsed and actual sales of digital music sales only rose by 7 percent globally last year. Mulligan says there are just too many other ways to listen, from digital piracy to legitimate sites like Pandora or YouTube. And, if you really have to own Britney Spears’ latest single, you can join the nearly half million people who downloaded it last week and skip her album.

Clip from Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”: Would you hold it against me?

The answer is probably yes, at least if you are an executive in the music business.

In Silicon Valley, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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