Official sales numbers for Mariah Carey’s new album are out today: She sold 463,000 copies of “E=MC2” — the highest sales week of the year. While that total is a bit lower than the 500,000+ expected, it’s still Mariah’s best debut week of her career.
That’s still not much compared to what a big album used to sell in the music industry’s good old days: Back at the industry’s peak, acts like the Backstreet Boys could move more than a million discs in their first week out. So why do we care? Because Mariah’s numbers are 15% higher than the debut of her last album, “The Emancipation of Mimi,” way back in 2005.
Wait a minute: Isn’t the music business in an inexorable decline, with more buyers abandoning the business every year? Yes, it is. But that doesn’t mean that all acts are getting hammered. Mariah’s not the only one weathering the storm.
We’re lifting this directly from a discussion we had Tuesday night with Jay Frank, a former Yahoo Music (YHOO) exec now running music for Viacom’s Country Music Television, so we’ll just go ahead and credit him with these data points as well:
- Justin Timberlake’s most recent album is selling more than his previous album.
- John Mayer has been racking up consistent sales for several years
- Someone named Taylor Swift, who Jay tells us is a teenage country star, is going to sell more records this year than anyone other single country singer has sold for several years.
Jay’s argument, which has the ring of truth to us: People are still willing to buy music — from a handful of artists they like and care about. This is a nice counterpoint to the arguments we often hear on the Web: People won’t buy music because the marginal cost of reproducing tunes is approaching zero. Or people won’t buy music because they’re sick of being ripped off by the evil record labels.
What is true, Jay acknowledges, is that the casual music fan — the one who didn’t particularly care about music, but casually threw a CD in the shopping cart while picking up something at Wal-Mart, has gone away. Which is why Mariah Carey will be happy to sell 3 million copies of the new album, instead of the 9 or 10 million that a big album would have sold in 1999.
That still doesn’t help the music business out of its core problem: That it used to sell units in $15 increments — and now it sells them primarily for $1 or less. But if they can figure out how to structure their business to accommodate that reality, they might just survive.
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