Digital craze has singles chart jumping
Owen Gibson, new media editor
Monday August 23, 2004
Hopes that new formats and the iPod-inspired craze for digital music would help revitalise the music charts were raised today, with figures showing that sales of singles have risen for the first time in five years.
Today's figures also show the total number of online downloads sold so far this year has burst through the 2 million barrier, boosted by the UK launch of the internet music shops Napster and Apple's iTunes and the popularity of the iPod digital music player.
In a sign that the record industry may be on the brink of recovering from several years of decline, quarterly figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) show that sales of singles rose 15% in the second quarter of 2004 compared to last year. The rise in volume led to an 8% jump in revenue.
The industry tried to save the single earlier this year by launching a "double A-side" CD format, retailing at a uniform price of £1.99.
As well as the cut-price version, which apes the traditional 7-inch single by only featuring two tracks, most record companies release a second version with accompanying DVD or interactive elements.
The move appears to have paid off, with Eamon's F*** It (I Don't Want You Back), the best selling track so far this year, shifting more than 500,000 copies.
Record companies were accused of devaluing the singles chart by flooding the market with cut price singles in an effort to promote the latest boy bands, with the result that tracks would leap into the top 10 before swiftly dropping out of the charts.
This lack of longevity was not helped by the practice of using singles as loss leaders to promote forthcoming albums, with many costing just 99p in their first week on sale.
Sales of singles have halved since the early 1980s as the charts have become increasingly irrelevant. Industry chiefs hope that the popularity of online download services such as Napster and iTunes will lead to a broader range of acts getting into the charts as customers get back into the habit of buying single tracks.
Record companies hope that the popularity of download services will also lead to a broader range of music entering the charts.
People who buy tracks online tend to be older than the typical singles buyer, many of whom are teenage girls, and the hope is that a wider range of songs will stay in the charts for longer.
The first official download chart will be released on September 1, the move being seen as a precursor to including download sales in the full chart.
"Downloading increasingly means customers can buy what they want when they want it. After years of work laying down the foundations for the legal download business, the industry is starting to see its dreams of a celestial jukebox coming true," said Peter Jamieson, the chairman of the BPI.
Online download services are now selling more than half a million tracks a month, according to the BPI.
Buoyed by high sales of British acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Joss Stone, Jamie Callum, Keane and the Darkness, album sales are also up 3.7% on last year.
The record industry has seen a global slide in sales in the past few years, which it largely attributes to the rise in internet piracy and physical copying. The UK market has been more robust than overseas but sales have remained stagnant at best.
Today's figures also show a further rise in sales for music DVDs, as record companies take advantage of the boom in ownership of DVD players and home cinema systems with a growing range of archive material.
The format is now responsible for 4% of all music sales, up from 2% a year ago. Big sellers in the year to date include a greatest hits video collection from Guns 'n' Roses and The Who archive compilation The Kids Are All Right.