Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: Album Sales Hit New Low

Chart Watch

Despite the best efforts of such hot acts as Eminem and Arcade Fire, overall album sales hit a new low this week. Nielsen/SoundScan reports that 4,950,000 albums were sold in the week ending Aug. 15, 2010, the lowest weekly total since the company began tracking music sales in 1991. This is the fifth time so far this year that weekly album sales have hit a new Nielsen/SoundScan-era low. It happened most recently 11 weeks ago, when weekly sales dipped below 5 million units for the first time under Nielsen/SoundScan's watch.

It wasn't always like this. Weekly album sales never once dipped below 8 million units from Jan. 9, 1994 (the oldest date that this historical information is available on the Nielsen/SoundScan site) through April 22, 2007. Weekly album sales reached their all-time peak in the week ending Dec. 24, 2000, when fans bought 45,372,000 albums. The biggest seller that week: the Beatles' compilation 1, which sold 1,259,000 copies.

But things started to slip after 2000 and especially after 2004. On April 29, 2007, weekly album sales dropped below 8 million for the first time. On Jan. 20, 2008, sales dropped below 7 million for the first time. On Jan. 18, 2009, sales dropped below 6 million for the first time. As noted above, on May 30, 2010, sales dropped below 5 million for the first time.

Will weekly album sales drop below 4 million at some point in the near future? One would like to say no, but the trend line speaks for itself. It probably won't happen this year. Sales traditionally pick up as we head into the holidays. The week before Christmas (or in some cases the week that contains Christmas) is always the busiest sales week of the year for album sales.

But even here the numbers are falling off. Weekly album sales in the run-up to Christmas topped 30 million units in every year from 1994 through 2006. In the week before Christmas 2007, they fell to 25,570,000 (despite the success of Josh Groban's smash album Noel, which was #1 that week). In the week before Christmas 2008, they fell to 17,164,000. In Christmas week 2009, they dipped just slightly to 17,142,000.

There's another way of documenting declining album sales. Four of this week's top 10 albums sold fewer than 30,000 copies. Two weeks ago, a record five of the top 10 sold fewer than 30K. This also marks a change from historical patterns. From the start of the Nielsen/SoundScan era through Sept. 2, 2007, no albums made the top 10 with weekly sales of fewer than 30,000 copies. That unhappy milestone was reached on Sept. 9, 2007, when Linkin Park's Minutes To Midnight made the top 10 with sales of just 28,000.

On June 6 of this year, Ke$ha's Animal made the top 10 with sales of just 20,000, an all-time low for the Nielsen/SoundScan era.

Overall sales will probably pick up next week. Three albums are expected to debut with sales between 60,000 and 75,000. They are Kem's Intimacy, Iron Maiden's The Final Frontier and Ray LaMontagne's God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise. By contrast, this week's top debut, the soundtrack to the Disney Channel's upcoming Camp Rock 3, sold a so-so 41,000 copies.

Follow Yahoo! Music:

View Comments