While Adele’s album 25 was a smashing success, selling 7.4 million copies in only six weeks, 2015 was a landmark year for catalogue albums. It was, in fact, the first year in history that older music outsold new releases by any kind of margin.
The term “catalogue” refers to albums released more than 18 months ago. According to the statistics in Nielsen’s annual year end music report, catalogue albums outsold current releases by 4.3 million copies in 2015, which is an industry anomaly. Just a decade ago, current music sales surpassed catalogue music by over 150 million albums.
While these stats do not include album streams, this may be a significant industry turning point. Digital sales of current albums maintained a slight lead, but more people opted for physical releases of catalogue albums. When single tracks are the focus rather than whole albums, oldies still slightly outsold new hits.
— Fred Jacobs (@fnjacobs) January 26, 2016
There are several theories regarding this return to the old school. Many believe it’s due to the vinyl revival.
Listening to records is the new cool thing, to such an extent that vinyl sales rose by 52% in the first half of 2015 alone. This is leading people to purchase physical copies of the favorites, rather than new releases. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon sold 50,000 copies in 2015, making it the 1973 release 2015’s third highest selling album on vinyl.
This trend could also be due to the popularity of music streaming. While many music lovers are used to and prefer physical LP’s, the convenience, accessibility, and cost-effective practice of listening to music on platforms like Spotify or Apple Music rather than buying individual copies of new releases has won over many consumers.
Maybe digital sales of catalogue albums will end up overtaking current and new releases, but that remains to be seen. Based on the rise in catalogue sales it’s a possibility, and current artists are taking note of this trend.