Let’s just state the obvious: People bought more albums in 1994.
You know this. You tossed your CD tower years ago. The Sam Goody at your shopping mall is a dim memory. And while downloads have taken the place of compact discs, the number of albums downloaded each year pales in comparison to the number of CDs people bought back in the day.
As much as that’s common knowledge, you might be shocked how insanely different today’s album-buying landscape is from the music industry in 1994. As part of our celebration of 1994, we compared the 10 best-selling albums of the first eight months of 1994 (period ending 9/4/1994) to the 10 best-selling albums of the first eight months of 2014 (period ending 9/7/2014). All data comes from Nielsen SoundScan.
As you can see in the graph below, it’s a stark contrast — although not at first. Ace of Base’s North American debut The Sign sold 3.8 million copies, while this year’s bestseller, the Frozen soundtrack, isn’t too far behind with a little more than 3 million copies (as of 9/7/2014), according to Nielsen SoundScan.
But after that, the shift brought on by the Internet becomes painfully clear. Let’s put it this way: The second best-selling album of 2014, Beyonce‘s self-titled, hasn’t sold more than one million copies in this calendar year. But back in 1994, 38 albums had already sold more than a million copies by Sept. 4.
Here’s another startling comparison: Counting Crows’ August & Everything After — the second best-selling album from the first eight months of 1994 — sold more than three times what Beyonce did in a comparable time period.
It’s not just that hit albums sold more back then — it’s also that there were more platinum-selling albums in the U.S. each year. In 1994, dozens of records went platinum every year. These days, not so much.
By the time 1994 came to a close, Nielsen SoundScan reports that The Lion King soundtrack trumped Ace of Base’s The Sign to become the year’s best-selling album. And hey, the Frozen soundtrack is 2014’s bestseller! Which, in a way, is reassuring — despite a sea change in the music industry over the last two decades, you can still count on Disney to come out on top.