Music in 2014: Sales down, streams up -- and then there's Taylor Swift

Music sales were down in 2014, though digital streaming increased by 54%

Three bright spots in a record industry that continued to dim in 2014: digital streaming, old-fashioned vinyl and the human supernova known as Taylor Swift.

Overall album sales fell 11% last year to 257 million, according to data released this week by Nielsen Music, extending a downward trajectory the business has been on for more than a decade.

Even digital albums, once a growth sector for an industry still grappling with changes brought on by the Internet, were down 9% to 106.5 million. Paid downloads of single songs slid as well, to 1.1 billion from 1.26 billion in 2013, a drop of 12%.

Yet digital streaming of music, through services such as YouTube and Spotify, increased last year -- and not by just a little.

Streams of songs were up 54%, Nielsen said, to 164 billion, a strong indication that listeners who only recently transitioned from CDs to downloads are shifting again, from downloads to streams.

Not that they've left behind physical product entirely.

Sales of vinyl albums, which all but disappeared during the CD era but are now prized by nostalgists and audiophiles, grew 52% in 2014 to 9.2 million, the highest figure since 1991, when Nielsen SoundScan began tracking music sales.

No matter which format fans bought, Swift's "1989" was the year's biggest-selling album, with 3.66 million copies sold -- and none thanks to exposure on Spotify, which Swift barred from streaming her music after she criticized the service for how it pays artists.

The soundtrack of Disney's "Frozen" finished at No. 2 on sales of 3.52 million copies; it was the only other album to break the 3 million mark in 2014.

Two titles sold more than 1 million: Sam Smith's "In the Lonely Hour" (at No. 3 with 1.2 million) and "That's Christmas to Me" by the a cappella group Pentatonix (at No. 4 with 1.13 million).

At No. 5, with sales of 898,000, was the "Guardians of the Galaxy" soundtrack, followed by albums by Beyoncé, Barbra Streisand, Lorde, One Direction and Eric Church.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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