IS the “Album” Dead?

I’ve been wondering about this for some time. I can’t even remember the last full CD I purchased (actually, I do. It was Jamie Cullum’s “The Pursuit” and much of it was pretty bad). But really, when was the last time YOU bought a full-length CD? Or even a digital album on iTunes? I’m seriously curious.

The fact is, here are the statistics:

Yep, that limp blue line is physical CD sales. The red line is single mp3 sales. The green line is digital album sales. So again my question: IS the “album” dead? Should we, as artists, abandon the full-length album format? Or, is this simply a trend that will turn around?

Here’s a great “opinionated” blog from a fellow music blogger: Mark Cuban.

There once was a time when the release date of an album was exciting. For our favorite artists we knew when the last album came out and when the next album was due. If you loved the artist you bought it. If you didn’t you either bought the single or you listened to the album with your friends and then decided.

As the price of records and then CDs increased year by year, spending 20 bucks for a CD became a purchase you needed to be sure of rather than a no brainer or impulse buy.

Then free became an option.

Then aggregating almost unlimited free music on a PC and then an IPOD became easy.

So here we are in 2011 and the only given in the music industry is that CD sales have and will fall. And fall. And fall.

The song Low Rider by Flo Rida sold 467,000 units in a single week. There were 27 digital singles that sold more than 100k units in that week. The obvious trend continues that people are ready, willing and able to buy singles of songs they like.

So the question arises, why don’t artists serialize the release of songs ? Why not create a “season” of release of songs, much like the fall TV season and promise fans that Flo Rida is going to release a new single every week or 2 weeks for the next 10 weeks ?

Sure, its not easy to come up with a great song every 2 weeks. But isn’t that exactly the same problem you have with an album ? Maybe thats not the “creative process” for certain artists. That’s a problem for them.

What we do know is that music fans will spend 99c and that its easier to ask them for 99c a week than it is to get 9.99 at one time from them for 10 songs.

Serializing the release of music also allows for the marketing arms to be in constant touch with sales and radio outlets. Rather than having to initiate marketing plans and hope to reinvigorate the interest in an artist, it becomes a digital tour that never ends.

If an artist commits to release music on a weekly or bi weekly basis, then consumers can make a commitment knowing they are going to get something new and hopefully exciting for their 99c. If the commitment is strong enough its feasible that artists could sell subscriptions to their serialized releases. My guess is that consumers will feel better about subscribing to an artist and getting a song a week or every 2 than dropping 10 dollars at a time for an album.

In reality thats exactly how I buy my music right now. I dont do it by artist. I go to iTunes and I go through the top 10 lists and listen to samples and thats how I determine what music I’m going to buy.

If there was an option when I bought a single to subscribe to an RSS feed that would send me a sample of that artists song when they released a single, I would add that RSS feed to my browser. Add a 1 click to buy, and chances are I’m going to buy a lot more music.

Consumers are buying music 1 track at a time. I think people will pay 99c to get a single rather than steal it. I think people would rather steal a full album rather than pay 10 dollars or more for it.

I’d love to hear from you.

Your friend,
Worship Musician with 1000 Generations


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vested Interest
    May 09, 2011 @ 16:18:48

    The last part about the purchasing vs. stealing is 100% accurate. With regards to payoff, the amount of work it takes to steal a single isn’t worth the effort, whereas stealing an album is. Especially in an age where social media and being connected is something more and more sought out, an RSS feed is a great way to continually feed music to the listener. What’s more, is it’s free or at least very cheap to have an RSS feed, the only problem is the cost of the “one-click buy” button. Lots of variables there (which service to use, how many uses, etc.) but for a large act, the profitability is huge.


  2. Sharon Ott
    May 10, 2011 @ 11:34:10

    I bought a full album on itunes just this past Monday. 🙂


  3. Steven Andy
    May 15, 2011 @ 21:31:03

    Good points Vested. Sharon, thanks for sharing.


  4. Jonathan Hicks
    May 17, 2011 @ 00:18:47

    As I thought about your questions, Steven, I looked back at my own iTunes purchase history and saw that on average for a month I will buy one full length album and around 5 singles. I wear out those singles on mixes in my car (I drive an 04, so the cd player is where its at for me lol) but of the 5 full-length albums i’ve bought this year, two albums were bought out of loyalty to artists I’ve followed for a few years, but I’ve never really gotten into the whole records. The other three full lengths I bought because I listened to a few songs from the record on youtube and most were at least decent. To me it seems that artists have another level of quality in both songwriting and production for their singles. Now, obviously, it is a single, you want it to stand out, but we as artists need to realize that consumers now have the option to not buy the filler tracks. I think people will pay for music that’s genuinely good and they enjoy, especially when its $.99 and so darn easy to legally download. I think alot of my generation (i’m 18 for anyone wondering) has been marketed to in a way where its normal for me to download a single on itunes on my phone while walking to the car because I heard it on the radio on the way over and want to hear it again. So I think the future is in singles for sure, and I think that people in general (especially my age and younger) have such sort attention spans that they won’t sit through a whole album. So I think that this whole “season of singles” thing would be absolutely amazing, especially for artists with a younger fan base.


  5. Steven Andy
    May 17, 2011 @ 14:12:23

    Thanks for your thoughtful input Jonathan! Good to hear from someone in your age group. And you’re right, artists do spend much more time on singles than the “filler,” though that’s never been the case for me and 1kG.


  6. Chas
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 17:07:15

    Last cd bought on Thursday, signed by the artist at the concert. I never buy singles as I feel a good album is better than the sum of it’s constutent songs. I hope you’re wrong but I do feel like a dinosaur in how I consume music. It would be sad indeed without journeys like Dark Side or Automatic for the People to go on.


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  8. Jack Summerfield
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 15:23:38

    Hi Steven,

    Fascinating article!
    Would it be possible to get my hands on a copy of the chart in a higher resolution.

    I am studying a Degree in music and it would be great if i could use it!


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