It’s a moment that many industry observers have predicted for the best part of a decade: the US music market is now more digital than physical, by volume at least. Yet commoditisation increasingly demands entirely new strategies in order to monetise digital music.
According to figures from Nielsen SoundScan and Billboard magazine, digital music unit sales accounted for 50.3% of all music purchases in 2011, the first time that threshold has been crossed in the world’s largest music market.
The US is more advanced in digital than most of Europe. In the UK digital albums still account for less than a quarter of the market, although downloads of individual tracks far outstrip CD singles.
One in three albums is digital in the US, while Americans bought 100m more digital tracks overall in 2011 than the prior year, up over 8%.
But in spite of the digital growth, there are signs that the decline of CDs is slowing. Total album sales were up for the first time since 2004 and physical album sales fell 5% in 2011, significantly less than the 19.5% decline reported in 2010 over the prior year.