This article was published on January 2, 2013

Music by numbers: Digital drives a successful 2012 for singles in the UK, but album sales fall overall

Music by numbers: Digital drives a successful 2012 for singles in the UK, but album sales fall overall
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

The Internet has been blamed for killing the music industry for more than a decade now, but the latest figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), backed by figures from The Official Charts Company, tell a mixed story of the current state-of-play in the UK.

In terms of singles, well, they’re going from strength-to-strength. UK music-lovers snapped up 188.6m singles last year, up 6% from 177.9m in 2011. Interestingly and, perhaps, not surprisingly, digital downloads constituted 97.2% of the market, with 7″ vinyl (0.1%), CD singles (0.3%) and other (2.4%) making up the remainder. 2012 saw a fifth successive increase for singles sales in the UK.

Album sales, however, continued to fall, with 2012 seeing 100.5m long-players shifted, down 11.2% from 2011. The main contributing factor to this drop was the decline in CD sales, with only 69.4m albums sold on CD last year, down 19.5% from 2011’s 86.2m. There was some good news in that digital downloads rose to 30.5m, up 14.8% on the previous year, but CD remained the most popular format with album buyers, accounting for more than two-thirds (69.1%) of total sales, compared to a 30.4% share for digital albums and 0.4% for vinyl LPs.


You may remember back in May, we reported that the UK top 100 came of age with the launch of the Official Streaming music Chart, reeling in data from the likes of Spotify and Deezer. Well, streaming is clearly playing a much bigger part in music fans’ lives these days, with the latest figures released by BPI showing Brits streamed more than 3.7bn tracks in 2012, representing an average of 140 music streams for every UK household.

According to estimates released by BPI earlier this year, it’s thought that around 2.6bn audio streams were delivered in the UK in 2011, so that means music consumption from the likes of Spotify grew by around a third in 2012.

Christmas spike

The festive period actually turned out to be the year’s record week for digital sales as consumers redeemed their vouchers and downloaded more than 1.3m albums and 5.6m singles.

“2012 was an encouraging year for UK artists and for music’s digital future,” says Geoff Taylor, BPI Chief Executive. “Digital albums grew strongly and singles sales hit a new record.  Music fans are now streaming billions of songs from new services enabled by record labels. The Jubilee celebrations and the London 2012 Olympics provided a great showcase for British music internationally, but market conditions at home remained difficult and pressure on the ‘leisure wallet’ impacted music sales on the high street.

“However, the quality of our music and digital innovation by UK labels means we have excellent potential for domestic growth and to increase our share of the global music market,” he continued. “We hope Government will recognise the potential of digital music to contribute to economic recovery and provide more active support in 2013.”

On another positive note, British acts performed very well overall in the domestic albums market, accounting for seven of the top ten selling artist albums of 2012 and the entire top three. Emeli Sandé’s debut album, Our Version Of Events,  was the biggest seller of 2012, ending the year with 1.4m copies sold.  Adele’s 21 ended 2012 in second place, with + by Ed Sheeran finishing at No.3.

X Factor 2012 winner James Arthur was the highest placed Brit in the Official Singles Chart 2012 – his single Impossible ended the year as the fifth biggest-selling track.  The only other UK artist in the top ten last year was Jessie J with Domino at No.8.

So, while the continued drop in album sales is certainly a worry, it seems that music sales on the whole are reasonably healthy. Indeed, consumers are now listening to music in new ways – individual tracks, downloaded or streamed, are doing pretty well. Though naturally, the scourge of illegal downloads will continue to hit the industry to some extent, but with increased legal avenues giving music fans easier access to their favorite artists, this should go some way towards helping.

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