The record industry has just had its worst week in decades. For the first time since Nielsen SoundScan began keeping track in 1991, album sales failed to reach the four-million-sold mark this week, totaling just 3.97 million. The week’s top seller, Wiz Khalifa‘s Blacc Hollywood contributed just over 90,000, but after that, the Top 10 featured three other debuting albums that averaged only 31,000 each, Billboard reports. It’s worth noting, though, that this week’s numbers do not include the post-VMA sales bump for many artists. Those will be tallied on next week’s charts.
Falling below the four million mark was inevitable, as sales totaling more than five million records sold have been a rarity so far in 2014. In fact, one of this summer’s biggest sellers was a soundtrack featuring previously available Seventies hits (Guardians of the Galaxy) that sold at the same pace as a Now! compilation. If not for that soundtrack’s surprise success, album sales may have dipped below four million weeks ago. By comparison, during this same week in 2014, album sales totaled 4.88 million.
The music industry has struggled in recent years as consumers have shifted from physical CDs to MP3s, but even the digital side has been hit hard in 2014: Digital album sales are down 11.7 percent for the year, and à la carte downloads are down another 12.8 percent according to Billboard. Illegal downloading has no doubt eroded much of those digital sales, but it’s the emergence of legal streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora that has also chipped away at overall sales. Taylor Swift‘s “Shake It Off” had 544,000 digital sales this week partly because the track isn’t available on Spotify, forcing fans to download the song (or watch it on YouTube, where it has already accrued 46 million views).
While the music industry has struggled to capture even five million units sold per week in 2014, things look slightly more optimistic in the months to come thanks to new releases from bona fide album movers like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett, Lil Wayne, Foo Fighters and Pink Floyd. Those albums, and Adele‘s eventual LP, will help resuscitate things. However, if current trends continue, 2015 promises to be an even gloomier year sales wise for the music companies.