U.K. Recording Industry Totals $1.6 Billion in 2015

Adele 2015
Beretta/Sims/REX Shutterstock

Adele in London on Oct. 23, 2015. 

Music consumption in the United Kingdom climbed by 3.5 percent in 2015 to total £1.1 billion ($1.6 billion) in retail sales value, according to annual figures released today by labels trade body the BPI.

The rise was largely driven by sustained growth in the streaming sector -- which, like the U.S., nearly doubled -- by 82 percent in volume to 26.8 billion audio streams, up from 14.8 billion the previous year, and now representing over a fifth (22 percent) of music consumed in the U.K. Streaming subscription revenues totalled £251 million ($368 million) in 2015, almost a 50 percent rise on the previous year’s total of £168 million ($246 million).

When combined with downloads -- which fell by around 14 percent overall to total £293 million ($430 million) -- digital formats account for 54 percent of all British music consumption. BPI notes that if streaming through music video sites was added into the equation alongside audio services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and Deezer, the total number of streams would cross the 50 billion mark.

A slower-than-anticipated decline in CD sales also contributed to the strong figures. Based on Official Charts Company data, CD sales dropped by 3.9 percent annually to stand at 53 million units, generating sales of £468 million ($687 million). Despite the uptake in streaming, the format still accounts for 66 percent of all albums sold in the U.K.

Vinyl consumption, as has been widely reported, hit a 21-year high in Britain last year, with just over 2 million vinyl records sold. The total value of physical sales across vinyl and CD was broadly flat at £515 million ($755 million).  

The combined total of albums sold across physical formats, digital downloads and streaming (using the Album Equivalent Sales metric) was 121 million albums in 2015 -- up 4 percent on the previous year’s total of 117 million albums (or equivalent). However, there were a number of exceptional factors that helped boost the annual consumption figures.

Firstly, Officials Chart Company data for 2015 is based on a 53-week year, which means British music fans had several extra days to purchase or stream their favourite artists compared with the previous year. The Q4 release of Adele’s 25 also had a dramatic impact on domestic music sales by shifting 2.5 million copies in just six weeks -- the first multi-million album release in a calendar year since Adele’s 21 in 2011. As has been previously reported, 25 sold 7 million units in the U.S. during the same time frame to become the year’s biggest and fastest selling album globally.

Other British artists who performed well on both sides of the Atlantic included Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, who each passed 2 million lifetime sales of X and In The Lonely Hour, respectively, in both markets. Sheeran was the most streamed artist in his home country in 2015.

In total, home-grown artists claimed seven of the top 10 best-selling albums of the year in the U.K., with Coldplay, James Bay and Jess Glynne among the most popular. Now 92 was the year’s biggest-selling compilation album, shifting over 800,000 copies to rank just above Now 90 and Now 91 in the compilations chart.

The best-selling albums by international artists in 2015 included Elvis Presley’s orchestral compilation If I Can Dream followed by Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Taylor Swift’s 1989. The biggest-selling single of the year was "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, first released in 2014.    

To coincide with the BPI 2015 report, the U.K. Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has also published its annual sales round up, which revealed that the U.K.’s combined games, video and music market grew to £6.1 billion ($8.9 billion) last year -- its highest ever total and arresting a decade of decline.

Having climbed to just over £6 billion in 2004, entertainment sales steadily fell for the next ten years as retailers like Our Price and Virgin disappeared from the British high street and online piracy decimated physical sales. In 2012, the combined sector had fallen to £5.2 billion ($7.6 billion).

"Ten years ago the entertainment business was on the edge of a precipice,” commented ERA CEO Kim Bayley. “Piracy was rampant and there were few legal alternatives. Thanks to huge investments by the likes of Apple and Steam and Netflix and Spotify, there has been a significant turnaround,”

“Hopefully we have now all learned the lesson of the vinyl LP that older formats can happily co-exist with newer ways of enjoying entertainment,” Bayley went on to say. “The fact is that different formats provide different benefits to different groups of entertainment fans. That diversity is proving to be the entertainment market’s greatest strength.”

Best-selling albums in the U.K. in 2015

1. Adele / 25 / XL Recordings (Beggars Group)
2. Ed Sheeran / X / Asylum/Atlantic Records UK (Warner Music UK)
3. Sam Smith / In The Lonely Hour / Capitol/Capitol (Universal Music UK)
4. Elvis Presley / If I Can Dream / Sony Music CG/Sony Music CG (Sony Music Entertainment UK)
5. Justin Bieber / Purpose / Def Jam/Virgin EMI (Universal Music UK)
6. Taylor Swift / 1989 / EMI/Virgin EMI (Universal Music UK)
7. Jess Glynne / I Cry When I Laugh / Atlantic/Atlantic Records UK (Warner Music UK)
8. James Bay / Chaos And The Calm / Republic Records/Virgin EMI (Universal Music UK)
9. Coldplay / A Head Full Of Dreams / Parlophone/Parlophone (Warner Music UK)
10. George Ezra / Wanted on Voyage / Columbia/Columbia Label Group (Sony Music Entertainment UK)