Classical Music Listeners Faithful to Physical CDs in 2015

Academy Records in New York

Classical music listeners remained faithful to the physical album in 2015, even as CD sales across all genres dropped and overall streaming numbers nearly doubled.

A 2015 year-end report published Tuesday by Nielsen Music contains some revealing tidbits on classical listenership, notably that physical albums (CDs, vinyl) accounted for 45% of all classical music sold in the United States.

Album downloads accounted for 27% of classical sales. Streaming activity made up 22% of classical music sold (using an industry formula known as “Stream Equivalent Albums” (SEA), in which 1,500 streams equal one album sale).

The rest of the sales, 7%, were in “Track Equivalent Albums” (TEA), whereby 10 individual tracks sold equal one album.

Nielsen’s report overall shows that 241.4 million albums were sold in the United States, down 6% from 2014. CD sales dropped by 11% while streaming activity was up 93%.

Classical Music’s Share of the Pie

Theories about why many classical music buyers prefer physical albums to digital releases have ranged from an adherence to a collecting objects to the desire for tangible liner notes.

The genre accounted for 1.3% of all record sales in 2015 — a tiny share but not far off from several other genres including jazz (also 1.3%), children’s music (1.1%), Christian/gospel music (2.8%) and holiday/seasonal music (1.7%).

Classical music’s slice of the music market was nearly steady from 2014, when it accounted for 1.4% of total sales.

As for how one defines classical, well, that is for a larger discussion: Billboard’s ranking of the top-selling classical albums of 2015 shows that crossover dominates the picture, accounting for each of the top 10 slots, and a majority of others in the top 50. The top-selling album was “Shatter Me” a 2014 release by Lindsey Stirling, the violinist and YouTube sensation.

Classical Album Sales: 2015
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