Business News Labels & Publishers

Catalogue music outsells new releases in US

By | Published on Friday 20 July 2012

Whitney Houston

Old music is outselling new music in the US for the first time, according to a report from Nielsen Soundscan. Reviewing album sales in America for the first half of 2012, the stats round up says that catalogue records (over 18 months old) shifted more units than new releases – so 76.6 million catalogue records were shifted, while new releases sold 73.9 million units. And that’s counting Adele’s mega-selling ’21’ as a new record.

Of course this could be a temporary trend, possibly a sign that digital music consumption is finally going truly mainstream, and those new to downloading are rebuying classic albums (either because they are too lazy or too inept to rip tracks from their old CDs).

Or it could be a sign that, with catalogue music easier to both sell and buy in the digital age, archive content is becoming the key revenue stream for bigger labels. Of course many have been predicting that trend for a while, while some expected catalogue sales to exceed new music sales quite sometime ago.

Though, arguably, to properly capitalise on the potential for catalogue purchases in the digital age, labels need to refresh the way they market their archives, perhaps PRing old music more tactically, rather than using the ‘re-release’ model, where a select few old albums are re-released, and marketed as if they were new.

Catalogue sales are already aided by sudden surges in interest in certain artists or songs because of external events – Whitney Houston’s death and the subsequent buying of her records helped contribute to the 76.6 million units mentioned above, though such events can be less traumatic – and perhaps more labels should be orchestrating happenings that will revitalise interest in old recordings (not that we’re suggesting they should start bumping off old stars to reignite sales).