2010 Sales Wrap: Country Slide Continues

Today is an especially robust data day for Nielsen SoundScan watchers since the week ending 1/2/2011 closes the door on 2010. Pundits will continue squeezing out details over the next few weeks in an effort to fully understand the past and perhaps peer into what lies ahead, but simply stated the industry overall continued its decline, with CD sales (both physical and digital) dropping 12.8% compared with 2009. Country CD sales for the same period fell a kinder, gentler 5.2% affording the format a slightly stronger market share of total CD sales— 13.4%—up from last year’s 12.3%. (As the album sales graph shows, country CD sales have plummeted almost 50% since this decade’s highpoint in 2004.)

Keeping this year’s decline in the 5% range required a massive fourth quarter full court press on the consumer. (As late as 9/5/10 country was behind 13.2%.) The ten Top Selling Q4 Country CD releases shown in the colorful graph [above] show how much superstar product was launched into the marketplace. The Sales Percent graph [top] shows how the numbers (and consumers) responded. Six artists were able to shift more than a half million units each in the 15 week (or less) holiday season leading to year end. Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now also must be mentioned. Although the trio debuted 49 weeks earlier this year and therefore didn’t make our Q4 chart, they racked up 3.09 million units YTD.

Taylor Swift’s spotlight continued to shine brightly this year, eclipsing all but a very few other artists worldwide. Her 1.05 million unit Speak Now debut week (10/31) exploded and she ended the year selling just shy of 3 million units over a 10 week period. The colorful Q4 graph tells the tale and explains why the young singer/songwriter continues to reap large editorial coverage.

As we wonder about 2011, insiders project that retail shelf space will continue to shrink, and marketers will therefore continue to place a premium on prospecting for new sales opportunities.

In 2010 country digital album sales grew to about 15% of the total up from 11% in 2009. However, all genre digital album purchases equal 26% (up from about 20% last year). This 15/26 gap shows that country consumers still have a lot of catching up to do as they travel toward the digital frontier. However, with the amazingly rapid integration of smartphones, tablets and more, 2011 may well be the year that country’s fans narrow the format’s “technology gap.”

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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. dross@musicrow.com

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