US Music Sales Hit New High in 1999

A slump in the music business is officially over. Sales of recorded music in the United States last year totaled $14.6 billion, an all-time high. The figure is a 6.3% increase from 1998's total of $13.7 billion, the previous record, according to a recent report from the Recording Industries Association of America (RIAA).

1999's total is almost double that of 1990, when music sales exceeded $7.5 billion. A surging American economy has lifted the music business out of the doldrums it experienced a few years ago, when it appeared the industry might have a difficult time ever topping the $12 billion mark.

The music industry's sales figures have a large built-in "fudge factor," however, because they are calculated from manufacturers' suggested list price. Both traditional retailers and Internet operations sell a substantial amount of recorded music at discount. Music clubs like BMG and Columbia House, supported by major record labels, frequently make large portions of their catalogs available to the public at prices below wholesale.

Full-length CDs continue to dominate the music market. In 1999 units shipped rose 10.8%, to 939 million, representing a retail value of $12.8 billion. Numbers of CD singles shipped were approximately the same as in 1998, remaining at 56 million in 1999, but their dollar value almost doubled, to $65.3 million, due to the growth in popularity of CD maxi-singles. Last year, prerecorded cassette tapes shipped dropped 22%, to 123.6 million, as compared to 1998, with the dollar value down 25.2%, to $1.1 billion. The change is partly attributable to the increasing number of cars built with CD players, declining prices for portable CD players, and the increasing availability of CD recorders. Shipments of music videos, incidentally, declined by 28% from 1998, a dip not taken seriously by the industry because the genre represents only 2% of the overall music market.