RSS and the Greatly Exaggerated Rumors of the Album’s Death

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.

14 thoughts on “RSS and the Greatly Exaggerated Rumors of the Album’s Death

  1. I like this post. I love seeing albums as open containers indeed. Especially in a digital format where everthing is flexible. You can save something physical when you’ve got a more definite version/overview of something.

    Despite the options already mentioned, I use bandcamp for another fun project: releasing an album per month. Thanks to bandcamps flexibility I get to produce and share a whole year of music. ( it’s at ) A bit like sharing monthly demos for a new record. Making a record with constant feedback and a ton of possibilities is very 2.0 šŸ™‚

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  3. I also thought of the container concept. I like the idea of an album that evolves. I might ditch some tracks that now bore me, and will also rerecord the ones that I do like. The concept of a static album was the only way in the days of vinyl, now the rules have changed.

  4. First of all, albums are big, being albums. Since individual tracks were first made downloadable, free or otherwise, it was inevitable. Albums will still be around, I think, because recording artists think in volumes, or packets, like that. Ideas seem to be collective and groupable and relatable for them.

  5. Great post, Ethan. Might I continue to patiently agitate for the search by genre functionality? šŸ™‚

  6. So- if I make an album that I intend to add to, what happens if fan X buys it a week before I add three new tracks? Does s/he get to own the new ones, or would he have to re-purchase? I’m not quite clear…

    1. Great question Ben. The RSS feeds are just a notification system, a way for fans to find out when you add to your whole site, or to a particular album. We may offer paid subscriptions for artists/albums in the future, but that would likely be via a different mechanism (the lingo of “subscribing” to a feed is definitely a bit confusing).

  7. This is great. I’ve been using the “Open Container” methodology for posting (free) demos. I then send the link to a group of close fans/advisers, who critique them. Then when I’m done, I just hide the demo album. It has worked beautifully!

  8. So glad I came across this post – literally read it right after I wrote and posted Are Music Industry Stats Relevant to You? (, suggesting that the Nielson numbers probably have no meaning whatsoever to the majority of the “musical middle class”. Macro-level stats can be informative, but often have nothing to do with that is actually happening in your particular genre/scene/location.

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