As Album Sales Reach an All Time Low This Week What Impact Does this Have on Contemporary Christian Music?

CDs sales dip
(Photo : business weekly)

This week album sales has reached an all time low. Billboard magazine reports that this week's 3.97-million album sales total is the smallest weekly sum since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. It's also the first time since then that weekly sales have fallen below four million.

In its heyday where music releases were selling at its prime, for a hit album to sell over half a million copies in its first week, the release was deemed a failure.  Nowadays many top selling artists, including household names such as Celine Dion, Madonna and Mariah Carey, would be happy to crack the half million mark over the entire shelf life of a single album release.  When Whitney Houston's "The Bodyguard" was selling at its peak, it was shipping over one million copies in a single week.  That's almost 25% of all the records sold in one week today.  Other than Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" and Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP2," we hardly see a record selling anywhere close to such big numbers these days. 

Last week's top-selling album, Wiz Khalifa's 'Blacc Hollywood,' debuted with 90,000 units sold - well below the first-week sales of many other top debuts this year and while three other albums debuted in the top 10, they but averaged only 31,000 units moved each. The same week last year, 4.88 million albums were sold. This year, there have only been five weeks with more than 5 million sales and they each happened more than 18 weeks ago.

What about Christian music releases?  Of the top 200 albums that appear on the September 6 edition of Billboard magazine, only 13 of them belong to CCM artists or at least those who are somehow tied to Christian music. Topping the list is Colton Dixon's "Anchor" which makes its first week dash on #23.  Similarly, Lincoln Brewster's "Oxygen" lodges in at #51, Selah's "You Amaze Us" at #59, Hillsong UNITED's"Zion" #80, Paul Thorn's "Too Blessed to be Stressed" at #92, MercyMe's "Welcome to the New" at #103, Casting Crowns' "Thrive" at #107, Hillsong Worship's "No Other Name" at #113, Big Daddy Weave's "Love Comes to Life" #155 and the Soundtrack to the movie "God's Not Dead" at #185.  

Then you have a few releases who are not strictly Christian though they are somehow associated with CCM, this includes Amy Grant's "In Motion: The Remixes" which charts at #110, NEEEDTOBREATHE's "Rivers in the Wasteland" at #117, and Mali Is "Mali Music" at #119. Seriously under represented though are releases from the Southern Gospel, country gospel, bluegrass gospel and gospel genres. 

Yet, what is encouraging is that worship albums that are geared for congregational singing with words addressed directly to God are still selling in the US.  In this regard, we have much to thank Lincoln Brewster, Selah, Colton Dixon and church groups like Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong Worship for. 

So, what has caused such a huge dip in record sales?  Some blame it on illegal downloading.  Illegal downloading is so prevalent that if you type "Colton Dixon anchor" on google, sites containing illegal downloads surface near to the top of the list.  Others blame to the dip on online streaming service.   "I remember when album sales fell under 10 million units and the industry reacted like it was a tragedy," said one record distribution sales executive.The culprit: online streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Although some insiders claim revenue from streaming continues to make up for lost digital sales, others aren't so sure."





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