For the third time this year — and only the fourth time ever — the year-to-date total sales of digital albums have exceeded those of CDs.
According to Nielsen SoundScan, so far in 2014 through the week ending Feb. 2, a total of 22.99 million albums have been sold. Of that total, 11.18 million were downloads while another 11.10 million were CDs. (An additional 710,000 were vinyl LPs and other physical configurations, like cassettes.)
Year-to-date sales of albums on CD have only trailed downloads in three earlier times — and two of those were this year. Before 2014, it happened in just the first week of 2013 (week ending Jan. 6).
While it may seem counterintuitive to some, digital albums have yet to consistently surpass physical album sales. Up until now, only when track equivalent album (TEA) sales, whereby 10 songs equal one album, are factored in do digital album sales surpass CDs. Digital albums plus TEA first surpassed physical albums in 2011 when physical albums accounted for 49.7% of albums while digital albums plus TEA accounted for 50.3%. The market has yet to have a year where digital album sales without TEA surpassed those of CDs, but 2014 might be the year where it finally happens.
The divide between the two configurations has grown closer in recent years. Last year, CDs represented 57.2% of the album market, while downloads were 40.6%. In 2012, CDs were 61.2% of the pie, while in 2011, they were 67.6%. So far in 2014, CDs are 48.3% of all album sales, as compared to its 50.3% share of the market at the same a year ago.
Worth noting: when vinyl, cassettes and DVD albums are added in, physical albums account for 51.38% thus far in 2014 versus digital’s 48.62%. Vinyl itself is nearly 3% of all album sales so far this year.
Additional reporting by Ed Christman.