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The album is dead. Long live the album.

May 11, 2010

Rumours of the album’s death are greatly exaggerated. Ars Technica graphed some data from Tunecore and the RIAA on single and album sales. Here’s the graph for the RIAA data:

It doesn’t look very good. But figure that each album contains about ten tracks. Here’s a graph of songs bought as singles versus songs bought as part of album:

Doesn’t look quite so apocalyptic now, does it?

Another metric of the album’s not-quite-so-imminent demise comes from Spotify founder Daniel Ek, who noted during his SXSW interview this year that fully 30% of playlists on the music streaming service are albums.

Of course, none of this is really meaningful without longitudinal data. And if we’re going to go that route, we might want to consider that the 1990s were an aberration in single sales: since CD singles (unlike 45s) were barely supported by record companies, consumers had little choice but to buy whole albums. But as digital downloads (both legal and illegal) made acquiring tracks à la carte possible again, music lovers were quick to take advantage of it.

Of course, albums themselves are an artifact of a technological system, governed by the difficulty of distributing music-as-atoms, and how many minutes you could fit on long-playing record (the rationale behind the duration of audio on a CD is a little more involved). Given digital distribution, there’s no reason why artists can’t release singles, EPs, LPs, double albums, sextuple albums…whatever works best with their artistic vision. There’s nothing magical about an 80 minute set.

3 comments

  1. [...] offers some interesting facts and perspective on the state of the album as a unit of distribution for [...]


  2. I personally feel that for musicians singles are the way to go. There are many reasons for this, cheaper to produce, you can move with the times easier, but I won’t go into all of them now. Albums aren’t dead though, they still play a big role in physical releases…


  3. I agree with the idea of the single. I so rarely buy a full album anymore, it has to be from a long established band for me to buy the whole album and or there is another incentive, like the extra songs and or something special that comes along with it. Generally three or four songs is all I am really interested in.



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