Physical copy sales decline again in 2018: No wonder HMV is off

A general view of the HMV store on December 30, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. The music retailer has announced it is calling in administrators KPMG - putting 2200 jobs at risk at 125...

In just a decade, physical copy music sales have fallen drastically. Failure to adjust clearly will be at any provider’s peril in the music industry.

CD sales fell again in 2018 in the UK, dropping by 23% and marking another year of decline in a decade that has seen the endangerment of physical copy music become more and more prevalent. Meanwhile, although vinyl sales continued to rise, the medium’s resurgence plateaued somewhat in the year, with just a 1.6% uplift.

These latest figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) show that, as time goes on, physical music ownership is becoming more of an antiquated concept. I’d rather not get into whether I feel this is a good thing or a bad thing as there are very real and good arguments on both sides – be they environmental against physical copies or in a sense of the value of music for them, as well as a host of others.

A man selects a CD from a music shop October 7, 2003 in London. Falling sales of CD's and the imminent relaunch of online music swapshop 'Napster' have forced retailers to slash their...A man selects a CD from a music shop October 7, 2003 in London. Falling sales of CD's and the imminent relaunch of online music swapshop 'Napster' have forced retailers to slash their...

However, facts are facts. Since 2008, physical CD sales have plummeted by almost 100 million in the UK, according to the BPI. Meanwhile, a similar trend has occurred across the pond, with an 80% drop in the decade – from 450 million to 89 million.

The main reasons for this decline are clearly digital and streaming options and it’s particularly the latter in the last five years that has done the damage. According to combined data from the BPI and Official Charts Company, UK album streams since 2013 have rocketed per annum – from just under 10 million to 90 million. Over that same period, UK album CD sales have plummeted from 60 million to just over 40 million. Vynil has risen from about 1 million to about 4 million in that time.

It is no wonder, then, that we are seeing the second death of HMV – formerly the UK’s premier music retailer. Effectively, the company never adjusted or used any foresight in its approach. It eventually made digital downloads available but could never compete with the dominant iTunes platform when that medium was booming and, once again, when the likes of Spotify came along, HMV never created a streaming service.

The app of the music streaming app Spotify is seen on a screen while some headphones are lying on it. The numbers of people using music streaming apps grow. The biggest one is the Swedish...The app of the music streaming app Spotify is seen on a screen while some headphones are lying on it. The numbers of people using music streaming apps grow. The biggest one is the Swedish...

It is herein where it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the retailer. In order to survive in the market, we must adjust, whether we want to or not. The extra skills I now have to possess now as a journalist – basic understanding of SEO, ability to read basic HTML code, saying what I want to in fewer words – are all as a result of changes in the way people consume content.

As such, it seems obvious that the ones who will thrive currently are the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music – all of whom have popular streaming services and have moved with the times. Yet, there will no doubt be changes on the horizon in years to come and should any of these giants not adjust, expect the end – well, at least for Spotify, the other two’s parent companies obviously have seriously diversified interests.

Where those changes will come from and what form they take remains to be seen – perhaps it could lie in the Netflix Originals-style model with those platforms becoming labels and tour managers of a kind (I’ll gladly have my 10% for this idea). Whatever it is, it is fair to say that for now, it seems physical music ownership will become so marginalised that maybe only vinyl will survive – imagine telling somebody that back in the ‘90s in CD’s heyday – and that streaming will continue to reign supreme for at least some time longer.

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