UK Music Sales Rise

Contrary to popular assumption, music downloads and CD sales may reinforce each other. That's one reasonable interpretation of mid-February music industry statistics from the United Kingdom.

On February 10, the BBC reported that British consumers bought more than 150,000 singles online in January, making the virtual format the "second most-popular format for singles," exceeding 7" and 12" vinyl releases and DVD singles. Only CD singles outsold downloads, according to the British Official Charts Company (OCC), which began tracking online music sales in October 2003. The development marks the first time that an electronic format has outsold any of its physical counterparts, according to the OCC.

On February 9, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) announced that shipments of compact discs in the UK rose 5.6% in 2003. Since the London-based International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) claims that global music sales were off 11% during the first half of last year, this seems to run counter to the ongoing slump in the worldwide market for recorded music. The sales surge was attributed to a decline in prices and the surging popularity of several British artists, including Busted, the Darkness, Dido, and Will Young.

UK shipments of albums in all formats (CD, vinyl, cassette) rose by 4.9%, according to the BPI, but singles sales declined 31%. Perhaps music fans are downloading virtual singles and buying packaged-goods albums. If so, that would validate a somewhat heretical opinion held by some in the music industry that downloads are one of the greatest promotional tools ever devised.

Music-to-go will reach a new level of portability with the arrival of a new, slimmer Apple iPod. Due to hit stores the week of February 16, the $250 iPod Mini features the same 1000-song capacity as the original iPod, in a package that's 40% smaller and 35% lighter. Available in five metallic colors (blue, gold, green, pink, and silver), the little iPod has a four-gigabyte hard disk and an anodized aluminum case that is about as long and wide as a credit card, and only a half-inch thick. The user interface is the same scroll wheel found on other iPods, but space limitations forced Apple engineers to limit the display to artists' names and song titles only, deleting album names, according to advance publicity. A docking station and remote control are available as extra-cost accessories.

Apple claims eight hours of battery life with the new player. One serious drawback is that replacement of the rechargeable battery must be done by Apple technicians, at a cost of $99 if the player is out of warranty. On February 10, Dow Jones Newswires reported that Apple had been hit with at least five separate class-action suits challenging claimed battery life for its other iPod models. The suits were filed December 23 in courts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The plaintiffs have filed a motion to consolidate all claims in the San Mateo County Superior Court, the report stated.