Indie Labels Just 12% of 2011 U.S. Sales. Here’s How The Major Labels Divided The Rest

image from www.google.comOverall U.S. music sales rose 6.9% in 2011, as album sales increased for the first time since 2004,  according to Soundscan. Digital powered the increase, with sales of album downloads up 19.5% over 2010. But for all the talk here and elsewhere about the ascendancy of independent music, indies accounted for just 12.1% of U.S. music sales last year.  Here's how independents did alongside the 4, or if the sale of EMI to UMG passes regulators, 3 major label groups:

% Of U.S. Music Sales In 2011

  1. Universal Music Group – 29.9%
  2. Sony Corp. – 29.3%
  3. Warmer Music Group – 19.1%
  4. EMI Group – 9.6%
  5. Indies 12.1%


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  1. In what category are indies distributed by majors put in these figures? I know Soundscan recently changed them to to include these in the indies category and they went up to just over 30%…but are the above figures based on the old measurement system of including indies distributed by majors under the major label percentage?

  2. These numbers include the indies they distribute. All the major indies are distro’d by majors so its more like 33% indies.

  3. The more accurate headline for this item would be “Indie DISTRIBUTORS Are 12% Of 2011 U.S. Sales”. The figures Bruce quotes are market share by distributor. It’s an easy mistake to make.

  4. So wait, I’m confused. These numbers are based on distributors right?
    So for example, The Civil Wars, who are a totally indie op distributed by a major label distribution network (Sony/RED or Warner, I can’t remember) but thru an indie aggregator would show up on either the Sony or Warner digits, correct?
    If so, these numbers aren’t 100% accurate.

  5. Thanks for sharing the Billboard article. It clears some of this up.
    Because of distribution, marketing deals and even partial ownership by majors of some indies, this will always be a somewhat confusing issue.
    As we shift towards 90% digital and the need for physical distribution disappears, it will be interesting to see if indies move farther from the majors.

  6. To that, Bruce, even those distribution numbers are “interesting” since they don’t distinguish between digital and physical (i.e. indie label that does 50% of their sales digitally but has a physical distribution deal with a major but a direct deal with iTunes…market share goes to the major distributor). It’s understandable, Nielsen isn’t going to parse who has a direct deal, who has a different digital distributor than a physical distributor, etc. That’s why it’s so important that the press report market share based upon label and not distributor.

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