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US Music Media Statistics

Filed under: history — 2013-04-10 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-04-11 by Richard L. Hess

Pete Hammar and Tom Fine came across a great site detailing 40 years of music statistics in a series of pie charts for each year. I thought it might be interesting to show this as a graph:


(Click image for full-sized view)

The same site also had 11 years of revenue broken down by physical and “digital” media:


(Click image for full-sized view)

Thanks to Paul Resnikoff of Digital Music News for culling the data from the RIAA database and making the initial pass at presenting it.

Remember, these figures are for the USA (from the RIAA) and represent sales based on dollar volume, not unit quantities. This could be further sliced and diced, but the first graph in particular shows the ebb and flow of formats in an interesting way, I think.

There are a few interesting points to ponder:

In 1973, LP/EPs garnered 61.8% of the sales and peaked at 62.7% in 1977 (although an earlier peak could exist, I do not have the data). In 1982, LPs accounted for 53.1% of the sales value and cassettes 38.2%. The next year, 1983, this flipped with cassettes accounting for 47.8% of the sales value and LPs only 44.6%. LPs and EPs fell to 1.1% in 1990 and stayed below 0.3% from 1992 until 2007. In 2008, LPs accounted for 0.6% of total volume and were up to 2.3% in 2012. Note the little blue thread at the top of the graph never completely going away and starting to eat into the CD in 2012.

While my graph combines LPs and vinyl singles (and cassette singles with cassettes and CD singles with CDs), the vinyl singles peaked at 9.6% of the total value sold in 1979 (starting from 9.4% in 1973) and dropped below 1% in 1991.

Ford installed the first 8-track players in their most popular 1966 cars starting in the fall of 1965. In 1973, 8-Track tapes were already at 24.2% of overall sales. 8-track sales peaked the next year at 25% and were gone by 1983.

Cassettes start on this graph with 3.8% of sales in 1973, rise to 55.3% in 1985, and fall below 1% by 1998.

CDs start with 0.5% of sales in 1983 and peak at 95.5% in 2002. By 2007 they are down to 70% and drop to 35.8% in 2012, a 60% fall in 10 years.

DVD audio never made it above 0.1 % and is listed from 2002-2005. SACD started with 0.2% in 2003 and showed 0.1% in 2004 and 2005. Both were below 0.1% after 2005. On the graph, these are lumped in with CDs.

Referring to the second graph, we see that the total dollar volume dropped by about 50% between 2001 and 2011. This is not a good trend, but in reading deeper there are issues about counting apples and oranges in these data. For example, the dollar values for the physical media may be retail values while those for some digital media may be wholesale values. The cost of producing the physical media has to be accounted for when comparing “digital” to physical. I don’t like the “digital” nomenclature because it’s confusing…you can have digital physical media, um, like the CD! I think that in this sense the RIAA is using “digital” to mean file- or streaming-based media. So the profitability of this all is still unknown as we are not certain where manufacturing costs or mechanicals or performer royalties are in or out.

Hope you find this as interesting as I do!

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