Track sales are down 2% through March 15, according to Nielsen SoundScan, suggesting the product has reached a mature stage as consumers are changing their behaviors. Digital albums are still growing, however, although their 9% year-over-year growth through March 15 is 11 percentage points lower than the same growth rate a year earlier.
This isn't the first time track sales have been in negative territory in recent years. Track sales were down 1% year-over-year as recently as October 31, 2010 but pulled into break-even territory the next month and flourished for over two years. Why? The likely reason is the shutdown of LimeWire in late October 2010. Track sales ended up 1% in 2010 and improved to finish up 8% and 5% in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Since interest in music has not decreased, the drop in track sales is likely the result of a mix of other factors. Consumers shift to streaming services could be a cause. Spotify added 1 million paying subscribers worldwide in about three and a half months (it has not released a recent US figure). Muve Music has 1.4 million US subscribers and is growing at a fast clip. The natural slowdown of the digital format is a likely factor. If fewer consumers become new digital customers, or if people drop out of the download marketplace in favor of other options, there will be fewer people to support previous years' sales levels. Today's music consumer has an abundance of options to choose from.