Single Popularity his at the Top!

In the past we were a nation of singles buyers. Albums provided a higher profit margin for the record companies, but it wasn’t until the end of the 60s that the public started buying more albums than singles. Once they did though, that was that: LPs were the engine of the music industry, the focus of critical consideration. The fortunes of the album became an index of music’s commercial and creative health.

Then, last year, we turned the clock back. If the BPI’s projections are right, singles sales will have topped 150m in 2009 – the most ever, up 400% in five years, and above albums for the first time in decades. Of course, there’s no real cross-time comparison you can make: these days, any individual track counts as a “single” and they cost as little as 29p. Still, the singles boom is an inconvenient anomaly in current narratives of “what’s happening to music”. If you think recorded music is in terminal decline and should simply be a giveaway to support touring, you have to face the fact that millions seem happy to pay for it. But if you believe that recorded music is inherently valuable and its health has been sapped by piracy, you have to come to terms with the fact that the real value your paying audience attaches to a song is the same as a bag of crisps.

by Tom Ewing


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