Vinyl, Cassettes & Retail

For The First Time, Records Of The Past Are Outselling New Ones

Whitney-houston-the-moment-of-tru-404347For the first time since Nielsen Soundscan began keeping track of album sales in 1991, old records have outsold new ones, with the first six months of 2012 seeing album sales of 76.6 million "catalog" records (albums released more than 18 months ago) compared to 73.9 million current albums. Topping the catalog sales charts are Guns N' Roses' Greatest Hits and four Whitney Houston records (as a result of her untimely passing). 

So is nostalgia in higher demand than fresh material? The main reason, according to Nielsen analyst David Bakula, has been because record labels and retailers have continued to drop the price of older albums to as low as $5.99 or $7.99, which is attracting new consumers.

"I really, truly do believe that there probably is a consumer that is buying music here that wasn't buying music in the past," Bakula told the OC Weekly. He also goes on to mention that these high numbers of catalog records have resulted despite the fact that Adele's 21, which is still considered a new record, has sold one million more copies in 2012 than it did compared to 2011.

Digital sales is also an important variable to keep in mind, and while album sales in general have dropped 3.2% during the first six months of 2012 (when compared to of 2011), digital album sales have grown 13.8%. Attributing to the sales of old records, CDs and the majority of old digital albums continue to be sold for a relatively price (between $7.99 and $10.99), while newer CDs typically run consumers between a bit more (between $12.99 and $17.99).

It is also likely that many are repurchasing old records that they may have either lost or wanted to replace in digital format. And, as we saw with Whitney Houston and several others before her, the deaths of popular artists are certainly traceable to spikes in their record sales, which attributed highly to the sales of catalog records during the first six months of 2012. 

Hisham Dahud is a Senior Analyst for Additionally, he is the head of Business Development for Fame House, LLC and an independent musician. Follow him on Twitter: @HishamDahud

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  1. I read somewhere that an insane amount of older records were being bought and sold per month than was being reported on. The person was shocked to see Back In Black move something like 50k units a month up until about 5 years ago. They couldn’t figure out who the hell why buying all these albums and figured everyone who wanted a copy already had one.
    Free album at

  2. 75% of music sales are catalog sales for all labels across the board. This is common knowledge in the business and has been a fact for more than 50 years.

  3. I work in music retail and whenever you see a customer with a huge stack of CDs, more than likely they are from our $4.99 or $7.99 bins. It is all back catalog records that cover all genres. It is a great deal for someone looking to replace lost or missing items in their catalogs. We carry about 500 $4.99 and about the same amount of $7.99. Most of all, the customers love going back into their youth and fill in the gaps or the younger customers can take a chance on Jazz/Classical titles and feel grownup and hip.

  4. funny no one has mentioned that maybe people are also growing weary of today’s mainstream music and looking for something with more substance. I think that’s a critical factor as well.

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