Business Matters: Six Things in SoundScan's 2012 Mid-Year Report to Be Optimistic About
Business Matters: Six Things in SoundScan's 2012 Mid-Year Report to Be Optimistic About

Six Things to Be Optimistic About in SoundScan's Mid-Year Report
-- We're halfway through 2012 and the sales results are in: As Billboard.biz reported Wednesday and Thursday, album sales were down 3.2% and overall sales - albums plus track equivalents - were up 4%.

I spent some time digging deeper into the first-half sales figures. What I found is a music market with modest sales growth -- it varies by genre -- that coincides with growth in segments not covered here, such as performance royalties, sync royalties and revenue from ad-supported and subscription services. So if the sales figures from the first six months of 2012 don't exactly bowl you over, remember there is more to music than sales. And that's not to say the numbers are disappointing -- there's plenty of room for optimism.

1. A 3.2% decline in album sales at the mid-year point is worth a few cartwheels considering where year-to-date album stood in previous years. Prior to mid-year 2011 (at which point album sales were 1% over the previous year's pace, thanks in no small part to Adele), year-over-year change in album sales were -11%, -14% and -11% at the mid-year points of 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively. (All figures come from Nielsen SoundScan.)

2011 U.S. Mid-Year Album Sales Up for First Time Since 2004, According to SoundScan Figures

2. U.S. album sales look especially great when compared to those in the U.K. As the BPI announced earlier this week, U.K. album sales declined 13.8% in the first half of the year.

3. Digital spending on albums and tracks rose about $111 million at retail value and $78 million at trade value in the first six months of 2012, according to my quick math. Consumers have purchased 6.9 million more digital albums than they purchased through the first half of 2011. That's roughly $69 million at retail value and $48 million in trade value. Growth of digital track sales slowed to 5.6% from 10.6% in the first half of 2011, yet consumers purchased an additional 37.2 million tracks in the first six months of 2012. That incremental gain equates to about $42 million of retail spending (assuming the tracks are split evenly between $0.99 and $1.29 price points) and nearly $30 million in trade value.

On the other hand, CD sales dropped 11.8% in the first half of 2012. It's especially interesting to look at which genres did better and worse than the overall decline. Genres that had worse-than-average declines in CD sales were R&B (-15.7%), electronic (-16.3%), alternative (-18.7%), rap (-22.7%) and Latin (-23.7%). Better-than-average declines were seen in country (-1.5%), hard music (-5.3%) and rock (-10.8%).

Analysis: Pop and Rock Ruling Mid-Year Music Sales Charts

4. Proving the public's interest in new releases and willingness to buy them, consumers bought far more current tracks and slightly fewer catalog tracks. Sales of current tracks rose 15% in the first half of 2012 while catalog tracks dropped 1%. This sales mix is much more biased toward current tracks than in the past. A year ago, current tracks were up 12% and catalog tracks were up 10%. Two years ago, current tracks were up 5% and catalog tracks were down 3%.

5. Country is doing its best to shed the "digital laggard" label it has earned over the years. The minor drop in CD sales (mentioned above) is misleading: Country fans aren't exactly clinging to the CD; they're just buying a lot of music in general. The genre's digital album sales rose 34.9% -- the most of the major genres -- and overall country album sales were up 5.8%. The same goes for digital tracks -- country was up a better-than-average 13.5%.

6. Latin, rap and R&B had impressive digital album growth in the first half of the year. Rap digital album sales rose 28% while Latin and R&B rose 23.5% and 18.9%, respectively. Track sales were a different story, however. Latin track growth was fairly average at 5.9%. Rap tracks grew 10% and R&B tracks fell 5%.

Blur's Song-Premiere-Via-Twitter Makes a Big Splash
-- Here's an update on the item I mentioned last week about British band Blur using the Twitter platform to debut two new songs live on Monday.

The two performances are also available for viewing at Vevo. As of Thursday afternoon, " Under the Westway" has been streamed about 34,000 times and "The Puritan" has been viewed nearly 24,000 times. Studio recordings of both tracks were immediately made available for purchase at iTunes, where it reached #14 at iTunes U.K., and streaming services.

Blur's impressive Twitter activity suggests more events like this one could be on the way: 1.3 million impressions at @blurofficial during the hour of the stream (those are people who saw the posts), 70,000 streams (people who actually viewed the live streams mentioned in the posts), 9,800 mentions of Blur, 2,700 mentions of "Under the Westway" and 2,100 mentions of "The Puritan."