After a relatively stable year in 2005, the French recorded music market is again on a downward slope, according to first-half figures unveiled today (Sept. 15) by trade body SNEP.

After a relatively stable year in 2005, the French recorded music market is again on a downward slope, according to first-half figures unveiled today (Sept. 15) by trade body SNEP.

In the first six months of 2006, the wholesale value of the market decreased 8.8% year-on-year to €373.2 million ($472 million). Shipments decreased 11.3% in value to €353 million ($446 million). The volume of the market shrank 24.4% to 46.5 million units.

SNEP director of economic affairs Antonie Cartier blames the discrepancy on a reduction of budget-price initiatives on catalog releases last semester, compared with the first six months of 2005.

"The drop is higher than expected", acknowledged Hervé Rony, director general of SNEP. Christophe Lameignère, chairman and CEO of Sony BMG France and newly-appointed president of SNEP, said that the market might still improve in 2006, stressing, "70% of the 2005 market value was generated in the last four months of the year."

The value of album shipments declined to €298.1 million ($377 million), down 9.4%. A total of 34.4 million album units were shifted during the period, down 25.2%.

Singles shipments continued to decline in the first half, registering a value of €25.4 million ($32 million), down 8.7%. Singles dropped 12.7% in volume to 9.7 million units during the period.

The music video market fell 25.5% fall in value to €29.4 million ($37 million), and dropped 44% in volume to 2.4 million units.

Rony praised French record companies' efforts in maintaining the level of local production despite the crisis. The share of French repertoire in the non-classical music market remained stable at 65%, according to the SNEP statistics.

Classical music remains on an upward trend in France, up 5% in value and now represents 6.8% of the market (against 4.7% in the first half of 2005).

The good health of classical music in France, Rony stated, was not only due to the huge success of the Mozart complete works; the 170-CD boxed set was produced by Dutch label Brilliant Classics and released in France in October 2005 with a retail price of €99 ($125). It has shipped more than 200,000 units to date.

The digital market in the first half rose 78.8% in wholesale value to €20.2 million ($25 million) and now represents 5% of the recorded market. Almost three quarters of digital revenue comes from mobile, down from 84% in the corresponding period of 2005.

SNEP executives expressed confidence in the growth of the download market, thanks to the long-awaited copyright bill, which passed into French law in August 2006. "Thanks to the law, we have at last a healthy basis on which we will be able to build something," said Lameignère.

While acknowledging that the crisis was not over, both Rony and Lameignère remained optimistic for the future of the French market, insisting that the transition from a physical to a digital market was a long-term process.