We're all 'multichannellers' now, says the record industry
I’ve spent many happy hours over the past month or so talking to record companies about what the year ahead holds, the better to plan Gramophone’s coverage. I say happy hours, because despite some of what you read about the recording industry, it remains an inspiring and creative business, and one full of people with an infectious passion for music. From major artists on major labels in the most core of repertoire, to projects destined to take all but the most knowledgeable cognoscenti on a journey of discovery, this year looks set to be every bit as enjoyable as the last. We begin the year by profiling one of today’s most impressive violin virtuosos – Janine Jansen – and as the months pass by, look out for features devoted to more of the artists stamping their mark on our own era of recording, as well as explorations of anniversary composers and in-depth analysis of some of the main themes affecting recording.
One of those will undoubtedly be the changing nature of how we listen to and pay for music. As we were going to press with the January issue, some new research reached me from the BPI (the UK record industry body) and ERA (the Entertainment Retailers Association). We are, it now suggests, increasingly ‘multichannel’ music listeners. Many readers might be more familiar with this as a term used in our audio pages, but here it’s used in the sense of operating across different platforms – that is, both online (streaming and downloading) and physical (CD mainly, and vinyl). Of those interviewed, two-thirds of music consumers now define themselves as ‘multichannellers’ – they stream, but then may also buy the music which means the most to them. Vinyl is still growing (though from a low base of course), but crucially the decline in CD sales is slowing – something few commentators would have predicted just a few years ago.
The BPI report is across all genres, so I decided to take soundings from differing classical labels, and their response confirms that CD sales are indeed proving resilient. In fact Universal Classics hasn’t seen a decline this year when it comes to catalogue sales (anything that isn’t a new release), which constitutes a majority of its business. The bulk of UK distributor Select’s album sales are also on CD.
Streaming is clearly growing. Universal Classics (DG and Decca) saw a 45 per cent increase last year, while in October indie label Signum saw streaming revenues overtake those from downloads. But is there a link between streaming and buying? Signum observes a link between streaming and downloads when it comes to individual tracks, but not when it comes to albums. Select notices little correlation.
It’s complicated. The physical/digital division is affected by such things as how embedded in a culture streaming is (step forward Sweden and Norway), the availability, or not, of a good record shop, and artist activity (selling CDs at concerts is a big part of Signum’s sales, for example). But, it’s safe to say, that for all streaming’s success, classical listeners still like CDs too. So whether you call it multichannel or just buyer preference, as one insider put it ‘for now it seems that people like to access classical music in many ways’. Which seems like a positive way to begin 2016 - and on which note, may I wish all our readers a very happy new year.