Global music sales up 0.3% in 2012, first increase in 13 years

British soul singer Adele, shown with her best-song Oscar from the Academy Awards, had the world's best-selling album of 2012 with "21."
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When is 13 a lucky number? When it’s the number of years it’s taken for the music industry to post its first yearly increase in global recorded music sales, which is what happened in 2012, according to new figures from the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry.

The group’s annual Digital Music Report, issued Feb. 26 in London, noted that overall music sales rose from $16.2 billion to $16.5 billion, or 0.3%, from 2011 to 2012, the first time in 13 years that worldwide sales didn’t decline.

IFPI Chief Executive Frances Moore said that indicates the long-suffering music business is “well on the road to recovery.” The increase, fractional as it is, reflects a greater availability of digital music services around the world, according to the IFPI report.


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Digital sales were up 9% in 2012 — from $5.2 billion to $5.6 billion — thanks to proliferation of such services in 100 markets last year, compared with only 23 markets a year earlier. Music subscription services also helped, growing 44% last year and now claiming 20 million subscribers around the world.

Digital makes up more than half of recorded music sales in the U.S., Norway and Sweden, but for the rest of the world, physical CDs and other formats are still the dominant way people purchase and listen to music, the report said.

Even with the increasing popularity of subscription services, IFPI reported that 70% of global digital revenues came from online retail sales through iTunes, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Still it’s sobering to compare the 2012 revenue total of $16.5 billion to the industry peak in 1999, when sales hit $27.8 billion (adjusted to the 2012 exchange rate), as reported by the IFPI.

The top-selling single around the world was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” which sold more than 12.5 million copies, while Adele’s “21” was the biggest-selling album for the second year in a row, posting 8.3 million in 2012 after moving 18.1 million copies in 2011.


“It’s clear that in 2012 the global recording industry has moved onto the road to recovery,” Moore said in statement included with IFPI’s report.

“This has not come about by accident. As an industry, we have really changed and adapted our business models to meet the digital world,” she said, tempering her optimistic assessment with a warning against complacency in the future.


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