To some music lovers, the fact that Josh Groban's Noel was the highest-selling album of 2007 is all the proof they need that major-label music is dying. To shareholders and label execs, though, the numbers are more important, and the numbers are grim: music sales are down 21 percent this Christmas season. Variety has the latest music numbers from Nielsen Soundscan on music sales from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. In 2007, 83.9 million albums were sold, down 21.4 million from last year. A 20 percent drop in sales is more than a blip; it's serious trouble.
The recent news suggests that people are turning away from the CD as a Christmas present, due in large part to the rise of online music services like iTunes, eMusic, and the Amazon MP3 shop. Now that non-DRMed music is widely available from many popular artists, giving the gift of digital downloads can be an attractive option for holiday shoppers. Certainly it's becoming more mainstream; even my local supermarket now stocks iTunes gift cards.