Physical music sales decline slows as Ed Sheeran gives CDs a boost

Alys Key
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Ed Sheeran's new album accounts for one in 10 CDs sold in the UK since March (Source: Getty)

Physical music sales have been falling since the birth of the download. But new data suggests this decline could be slowing.

In the 12 weeks to July this year, sales of CDs were down just 0.5 per cent, despite big increases in music streaming usage according to Kantar Worldpanel.

To put the numbers in context, DVDs and blu-ray were down 13 per cent in the same period while physical games sales dropped 20 per cent.

The deceleration in CD sales falling meant that HMV was able to regain some physical entertainment market share in the second quarter. Overtaking Tesco to be the second-biggest player in the UK, HMV grew its share by 0.8 per cent to 15.4 per cent overall.

Amazon, which dominates the quarter, lost ground by 1.3 per cent but remained the source of one in five physical entertainment sales.

HMV-owned Zavvi also grew by 0.5 per cent, while Asda had the biggest growth with 1.9 per cent

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The slowing of the CD sales decline has been attributed to strong album releases in the sector such as Ed Sheeran's Divide, which has accounted for one in 10 CD sales since its release in March.

A quarter of those buying Sheeran’s latest hadn’t bought a CD for at least a year, meaning the release tempted 250,000 buyers back to physical entertainment.

"CDs aren’t out of tricks just yet," said Olivia Moore, an analyst at Kantar Worldpanel. "They still have a loyal following among older consumers, and fans of all ages still want to own hard copies of high-profile releases like Ed Sheeran’s Divide.”

The research does not include vinyl sales, which account for a small part of the music market but have seen healthy growth in the last few years. Music industry body BPI predicts four million LPs will be purchased this year alone.

Read more: Vinyl countdown: Independent record shops are under pressure

While Kantar's study is based on the buying habits of 15,000 individuals, data from Official Charts shows a significantly bigger drop of 6.1 per cent in CD sales in the second quarter of this year.

But Gennaro Castaldo, a BPI spokesperson, said this was still a relatively strong performance for the format.

“The fact is that, while many more of us are streaming, we still also love to collect and own CDs by our favourite artists, or to give or receive them as gifts. It also helps that certain genres, such as rock, perform proportionately well on CD, as do artists with huge mainstream appeal, such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Little Mix and Sam Smith.”

The popularity of streaming is reflected in Kantar's figures, which show that 13 per cent of the population now pays for a streaming service, compared to nine per cent last year.

Read more: Netflix and Britain: The nation's binge watching habits revealed

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