Weekly Register: Digital Divide Becoming Key Metric?

Today’s sales report “soundbyte” is contained in the weekly grid boxes below—country YTD album sales ticked slightly lower (-1.6%), the format’s digital album sales as a percentage of total country sales was mostly flat, and the Digital Divide is predicted to continue throughout the fourth quarter. Digital Divide? Yes, the difference in digital vs. physical sales rates among various country artists and their fans.

There has been a lot of discussion about the rate at which country consumers are adopting the digital album format. Country’s “heavy” sales season will fast be upon us, specifically new CDs from Jason Aldean (10/16) and Taylor Swift (10/22) whose admirers should show themselves to be above average mouse-clickers. Will these two debuts reset the bar for digital purchases?

According to Nielsen SoundScan, country digital album sales YTD are 27% of total country album sales (week ended 9-23-12). Last year at this time that metric was 20.5%. (For all genre music the metric is 39% YTD vs. 32.4% a year ago.)

Today, with physical shelf space rapidly declining countrywide, the digital storefront is becoming increasingly critical. But as the term Digital Divide suggests, not all artists share in the digital bounty equally, a fact likely to accelerate roster changes as the industry continues to evolve.

A quick look at our Digital Album Sales By Artist example shows the divergence among artists. Zac Brown Band after half a million RTD albums has 46% digital share. Carrie Underwood fans are also purchasing digital format above the 27% average. It’s too early to draw conclusions, but surprisingly, Little Big Town sales (after only two weeks) are leaning strongly physical. Normally, debut week brings a higher digital percentage. For example, this week we have country debuts from Easton Corbin (No. 2; 29k) with 47% digital; Dwight Yoakam (No. 3; 19k) 37% digital, Big & Rich (No. 4; 16k) 27% digital and Ryan Bingham (No. 7; 12k) 58% digital.

Low digital scans could be attributed to several reasons including pricing, but for the immediate future it appears that having a mobilized digital fan base is becoming incrementally more important than ever. When fans can’t easily find their favorite artist’s new music on neighborhood shelves, then sales suffer, UNLESS they are comfortable shopping at their favorite neighborhood online store—iTunes, Play, Amazon or Google.

Artists like Taylor Swift (FB: 34 million; Twitter: 19 million) and Jason Aldean (FB: 6.3 million; Twitter 700k) with passionate online armies are perfectly positioned for the next sales phase.

(Check out MusicRow’s Country Artist Twitter-Facebook chart for more artist info.)

Weekly Register: Taylor Swift, Hunter Hayes Romance?
Hunter Hayes and Taylor Swift make a great couple. I mean chart-wise, of course. Because this week they appear as country’s Queen and King in the top 2 positions on the country tracks chart. Taylor adds a demure 196k downloads this week and Hayes gains a substantially less demure 91k. Don’t look for this chart-top romance to continue, however, because Swift’s just released “Begin Again” track is already No. 1 on iTunes and sure to claim marquee status next week.

Swift’s appeal is so mainstream, her songwriting so inspired and her charisma so powerful that I sometimes wonder if Nashville bizniks realize what we are witnessing firsthand. She ranks with the best of the best and I’ll boldly state that you will never ever ever see another Nashville artist play on this level during your industry tenure.

The country tracks Top 5 also includes Carrie Underwood “Blown Away” (No. 3; 76k), Little Big Town “Pontoon” (No. 4; 63k) and Florida Georgia Line “Cruise” (No. 5; 60k).

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About the Author

Journalist, entrepreneur, tech-a-phile, MusicRow magazine founder, lives in Nashville, TN. Twitter him @davidmross or read his non-music industry musings at Secrets Of The List

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