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Physical Album Sales Drop Below 1 Million Per Week for the First Time Ever Due to the Coronavirus

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With most businesses in the U.S. now shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, brick-and-mortar record stores were some of the first “non-essential” retail operations to close their doors. And while music fans are being encouraged to support their favorite artists and labels with online purchases, the latest stats show that those haven’t closed the gap left by physical retail.

According to Chart Data, in the week ending March 26, 2020, purchases of physical albums dropped below 1 million in the U.S. for the first time ever since formal tracking began. Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales data for Nielsen on March 1, 1991.

According to a 2019 mid-year RIAA report, 8.6 million vinyl records made their way into consumers’ hands in the first half of 2019, while CDs shifted 18.6 million units. That’s 36 million in half a year, or 72 million per year if we extrapolate, which would equal approximately 1.38 million units per week. Compared to that figure, last week’s numbers represent a drop of roughly 29% from the average week in 2019. Those numbers are likely to continue declining as more parts of the country are forced to go on lockdown and as those who have been laid off have less disposable income (if any).

Meanwhile, streaming revenue has skyrocketed in recent years, with some labels having record years in 2019 as a result of it. Interestingly, despite the fact that we’re all cooped in — or maybe because of it, with no commute time to listen to music — streaming numbers have edged down too since the coronavirus began to take hold en masse, although music streams in the “on demand video” format (YouTube) have been up.

The next few months are going to be a very tough time for the music industry, among all the other businesses facing extreme difficulty. For more on my thoughts on how that might play out in the metal world, read this article.

Let’s hope that some combination of government stimulus grants, loans and ingenuity will be able to keep us all afloat.

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