The album is dying! And it’s not just the bottomless supply of industry clairvoyants saying so either. Nope, there’s cold, hard evidence, too. Nielsen SoundScan reported that in 2008, sales of individual digital tracks trounced sales of digital albums by a whopping 16 to 1 (1.07 billion to 65 million). That’s actually a slightly narrower difference than 2007 (when it was 17 to 1), but the point still stands: demand for tracks is crushing demand for albums. But wait, what’s this? A small beacon of hope to allay the worst fears of the over-30’s still gumming their (OK, our) food in time to every last track on Zen Arcade? Yes, here at Bandcamp we long suspected that our numbers were quite a bit different from SoundScan’s. But yesterday, we actually took a moment to analyze the data, and the difference is even larger than we thought.
On Bandcamp, albums outsell tracks 2 to 1. Put another way, 66% of paid downloads on Bandcamp are for albums, compared to only about 6% for the greater Nielsen-reporting world. So why the disparity between what we’re seeing, and what iTunes and Amazon are experiencing?
Maybe it’s because the independent artists that dominate Bandcamp have a different kind of fan than Hannah Montana (whose seminal work, Hannah Montana 3 (Music from the TV Show) [Deluxe Edition], is currently featured on iTunes’ front page). Maybe it’s because iTunes sells albums for the priced-to-not-move sum of $10 and up, whereas albums on Bandcamp sell for whatever you want them to (the default, name-your-price with a $5 minimum, being the sweet spot settled upon by statistics, not music attorneys). Maybe it’s because people are more likely to buy albums when they can actually listen to them beforehand. Maybe it’s because we’re offering albums in the formats people want to buy. Maybe it’s because the iTunes interface not-so-subtly pushes singles over albums, with any given album page sporting an attention-grabbing column of BUY SONG links against a high-contrast background while a lone “buy album” button lurks only in the page’s shadows:
Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever the reason, our own experience is that fan demand for consuming, and artist interest in producing, albums is alive and well, and, we believe, not fairly represented by the numbers coming out of SoundScan.
That said, what exactly constitutes an album is rapidly evolving, spurred on by enabling technologies like Bandcamp. I wish we could say our involvement was intentional, but the truth is that we never anticipated the ways in which many of you would use the site. Rather than treating albums as immutable collections of tracks, lots of you treat albums as open containers. Containers for song-a-day/week projects, explorations of particular musical styles, or just general works-in-progress. We find all of this activity incredibly cool, and want to do everything we can to cultivate it.
So, yesterday we took the small, but we think significant, step of adding RSS feeds at both the artist and album level. Fans can now subscribe to everything you produce, or just tune in to one particular album, whatever that happens to represent. The links are down at the bottom of your page (but feeds can also be accessed via the browser’s own auto-discovery):
Thanks to everyone who patiently agitated for this feature, especially Mark Cuban.