George Ezra, Ed Sheeran & Movie Soundtracks Lift U.K. Music Sales For Fourth Consecutive Year

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George Ezra performs live on stage at Latin America Memorial on June 10, 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A combination of blockbuster movie soundtracks and chart-topping albums by George Ezra, Ed Sheeran and Drake helped grow music sales in the United Kingdom for a fourth consecutive year in 2018, according to new figures from the Entertainment Retailers’ Association (ERA) and labels trade body BPI. 

Using Official Charts Company data, BPI reports that 143 million albums or their equivalent were either streamed, purchased or downloaded last year, up 5.7 percent from 2017 and equivalent to £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) in trade value. 

Streaming now accounts for nearly two thirds (64 percent) of all music consumption in the U.K., says BPI, with the total number of individual streams rising by 34 percent year-on-year to 91 billion. 

As a consequence, CD sales fell by nearly a quarter (23 percent) with 32 million CDs sold in 2018, compared to 41 million the previous year and nearly 56 million just five years ago. CD sales now make up 22 percent of all music sales in the U.K. with vinyl’s ongoing revival accounting for around 3 percent. 

Although still very much a niche format, 4.2 million vinyl records were sold in the U.K. last year, up 1.6 percent on 2017, with Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino the most-purchased vinyl LP. More surprising is a mini-revival in cassette sales, with British music fans buying nearly 50,000 cassette albums in 2018 -- the largest volume sold since 2004.

In terms of trade value, ERA reports that streaming subscriptions totaled £821 million ($1.03 billion, up almost 38 percent on 2017), downloads slipped 26 percent to £123 million ($154 million) and physical music sales earned labels £383 million ($481 million) -- a fall of nearly 17 percent on the previous year. Total spending on music rose by 8.9 percent to over £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion), while the overall entertainment market (spanning music, video and games) reached a record high of £7.5 billion ($9.4 billion).      

Meanwhile, 2018 saw a movie soundtrack top the year-end charts for the first time since Saturday Night Fever in 1978, thanks to the runaway success of The Greatest Showman. 

Originally released in December 2017, the cast recording was the year’s biggest-selling title, occupying the No.1 spot for almost half the year and selling 1.6 million units -- well over twice the number of copies as its nearest rival, George Ezra’s Staying At Tamara’s, which moved 691,000 units. 

Ed Sheeran’s Divide was the year’s third biggest-selling album (despite being first released in March 2017), followed by Now That's What I Call Music 100 and Now That's What I Call Music 99. 

Also in the top 10 best-selling albums are the Motion Picture Cast Recording Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Drake’s Scorpion, Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys and the soundtrack to the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper feature film A Star Is Born. 

Anne-Marie’s Speak Your Mind was the year’s biggest-selling debut with over 160,000 sales, while Drake’s “God’s Plan” was the most streamed audio track of the year, followed by “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa and “Shotgun” by Ezra. When downloads are factored in “One Kiss” was the U.K.’s biggest-selling single of 2018.  

“2018 saw another strong performance from the British recorded music business as consumers deepen their engagement with music in its myriad forms,” said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor, who praised “Britain’s innovative labels” for playing a key role nurturing and developing talent.

A tough retail trading market and the looming prospect of Brexit was, however, cause for concern, Taylor said, with the recent news that HMV, the U.K.’s leading brick-and-mortar entertainment retailer, had gone into administration a sign of the challenges that labels and artists face. 

“Continuing growth could be put at risk if a hard Brexit further harms consumer confidence or [the British] government fails to ensure that all platforms using music pay fairly for it,” warned Taylor. “If these risks are avoided,” he said, “British music remains poised for further growth.”

Best-selling albums in U.K. in 2018 
1. Motion Picture Cast Recording ‘The Greatest Showman’      
2. George Ezra ‘Staying At Tamara’s’                             
3. Ed Sheeran ‘Divide’                                         
4. Various Artists ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 100’   
5. Various Artists ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 99’     
6. Motion Picture Cast Recording ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’   
7. Drake ‘Scorpion’                                             
8. Various Artists ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 101’   
9. Post Malone ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’                        
10. Motion Picture Cast Recording ‘A Star Is Born’
  
Best-selling artist albums in U.K. in 2018 
1. Motion Picture Cast Recording ‘The Greatest Showman’      
2. George Ezra ‘Staying At Tamara’s’                             
3. Ed Sheeran ‘Divide’                                         
4. Motion Picture Cast Recording ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’   
5. Drake ‘Scorpion’                     
6. Post Malone ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’             
7. Motion Picture Cast Recording ‘A Star Is Born’
8. Michael BublĂ© ‘Love’                                      
9. Dua Lipa ‘Dua Lipa’                                         
10. Eminem ‘Kamikaze’