Chart Beat

U.S. Digital Album Sales Hit 7-Month High

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After overall U.S. album sales bottomed out to their worst week on record a week ago, the music industry has some good news. Total album sales volume increased in the latest tracking week, while digital album sales hit a seven-month high.

In the week ending March 26, total U.S. album sales grew 2.3% to 1.558 million copies sold across all formats (CD, digital album download, vinyl LP, cassette, etc.), according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. That’s up from the record low of 1.523 million in the week ending March 19. (Still, the 1.558 million represents the second-worst week for album sales since Nielsen Music/MRC Data began tracking sales in 1991.)

Digital Album Sales Hit Seven-Month High: Meanwhile, digital album sales vault 49.1% to 811,000 sold in the week ending March 26 — the biggest week for digital albums in seven months. The last bigger week for the format was the week ending Sept. 5, 2019, when 856,000 digital albums were sold.

Both overall album sales and digital album sales were boosted by the arrival of The Weeknd’s After Hours, which was released on March 20 and splashed in with 275,000 in sales in the week ending March 26 (with 167,000 of that figure in downloads, while the rest were CD sales). The album’s sizable sales start was goosed by sales generated from a concert ticket/CD album sale redemption offer, along with over 80 merchandise/digital album bundles sold via The Weeknd’s website.

Physical Album Sales Fall Again: Physical album sales (CD, vinyl LP, cassette, etc.) declined 23.7% in the week ending March 26 to a new low of 747,000 copies sold – down from the previous record-low, set just a week previous, with 979,000.

Overall album sales continue to be impacted by coronavirus concerns – with most states under stay-at-home orders, and many indie brick-and-mortar record stores temporarily closed (for in-store business, at least), along with big mass merchant stores likely focused on merchandising non-music products in these uncertain times. Further, consumers in general are likely focused on other matters outside of music, and perhaps choosing to be more selective with how they spend money.

Download Sales of Older Albums Surge: We can break down the overall digital album sales gain further, by isolating just sales of older albums – referred to as “catalog albums.” Digital catalog album sales jumped 18.8% in the week ending March 26 – rising to 389,000 sold. That’s the biggest week for digital catalog album sales in 2020, and the biggest week for the category outside of the always-busy Christmas shopping season, since the week ending Oct. 3, 2019 (410,000 sold).

However, a chunk of the digital catalog album sales gain can be attributed to the late Kenny Rogers, who sold 17,000 digital albums in the week ending March 26 — all from catalog albums. Without those 17,000 in sales, digital catalog album sales would have totaled 373,000 — the sixth-largest sales week of 2020 for digital catalog album sales.

On the Horizon: While The Weeknd’s After Hours and Kenny Rogers’ albums sent sales surging in the week ending March 26, there are a number of albums on the horizon that could also post significant sales figures.

On March 27, a trio of big acts dropped albums that are sure to sell in decent quantities, including 5 Seconds of Summer’s Calm (which will benefit from a ticket/album bundle as well as many merchandise/bundles), Pearl Jam’s Gigaton and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. On April 3, there’s Sam Hunt’s Southside and All-Time Low’s Wake Up, Sunshine. On April 10, The Strokes are due to issue The New Abnormal, while on April 24, Luke Bryan is scheduled to release Born Here Live Here Die Here. Some albums that were supposed to arrive in March and April, including Alicia KeysAlicia, Lady Gaga’s Chromatica and The 1975’s Notes on a Conditional Form, have been delayed to dates after May 1.