Following the recent piece on all-time highs and lows in the singles market, more than one person has asked me what the equivalent records for album sales are. So who am I to deny you what turn out to be some rather eye-catching stats.
Records for albums sales have always been set at Christmas, for what I hope are obvious reasons. Documenting them stage by stage isn't particularly revelatory, suffice to say that the all-time record week for album sales in the UK, a high that you can guarantee will never come close to being matched was in Christmas week 2005 when a colossal total of 10,581,571 units of product passed across the counter. This total helped not a little by the fact that this survey counted sales right up to Christmas Eve.
No.1 that week was Eminem's Curtain Call - The Hits, selling 314,553 copies. Close behind was James Blunt with Back To Bedlam which sold 273,183. The biggest selling compilation of the week was Now That's What Call Music! Volume 62, shifting 198,365 copies.
But if you want the most startling illustration of the way the music purchasing market has changed and the stark reality that the music industry is having to face up to, then all you have to do is track the Christmas week sales year in year out. Since the start of the last decade the numbers are:
From this point on streams are added to the official weekly totals, meaning a slightly false picture of the market can be read from the headline figures. The following numbers remain those of paid sales only:
To quote one contact of mine within the retail sector: "the arse has gone out of the gifting market to a large extent". In the space of two years the seasonal peak of the market has contracted by over 50%. Peak album sales were reliant on a concentrated period of people not just buying music for themselves, but buying for other people too - people who might not themselves purchase music at any other time. But who buys CDs as presents these days? Your relatives might not even own a CD player any more. Your kids certainly don't. And that's the grim reality that has to be faced, although the music industry is not alone in facing this issue with the sell-through market for moving pictures also facing up to the long term consequences of the decline of physical media.
Oh yes, and as for the all-time lowest week for paid album sales, that came earlier this year in Week 13, 2020 when just 276,898 albums were purchased. That date is fairly significant though, this survey dealing with sales logged between March 20th and March 26th and so naturally coinciding with the March 23rd announcement of full lockdown and with all non-essential shops (including record stores) being ordered to close. It is possibly no coincidence that new records for album streams were set during this exact same period although in pure percentage terms the jump in album streams was by no means as stark as the collapse in purchases. Paid sales remained below the 300,000 mark for the whole of the next month before starting to rally again and at the time of writing, they have returned to the same levels they were reaching in the first weeks of 2020. The total this Christmas will however be extremely telling.