Japan Is About to Become the Largest Music Market In the World…

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Artist Corner
Tags: , ,

by  Paul Resnikoff

Last year, Japan startled the industry by almost beating the US in total recording sales.  Now, it appears that Japan may grab the crown as the biggest music market in 2013, with relatively healthy physical sales a big part of the reason.

Updated, 6/18, 8:15 pm PCT: Yesterday, we misread digital sales in Japan as trending up substantially in the first quarter.  The opposite is actually the case: slipping mobile sales are pushing digital downward, though the overall impact on totals (physical+digital) is somewhat modest against far larger, and somewhat stable, physical sales.  The updated version follows.


Here’s what the year-end, 2012 tally looked like, according to industry trade group IFPI (for a more complete breakdown of all countries, check out this unbelievable infographic).


Combined, the US and Japan accounted for more than half the entire global recording industry total in 2012, though the US was only1.3 percent larger than Japan.  And while the US was struggling and losing money, Japan was one of the few markets that actually gained ground last year (by 4 percent).

Which brings us to right now: during the initial months of 2013, Japanese digital sales have been sinking, while physical sales have remained level.  But the bleeding looks far worse in the States: during the same period in the US, album sales drop 4.9 percent, while paid downloads slipped 1.3 percent according to Nielsen Soundscan.

Here’s what the digital picture currently looks like in Japan.  Overall, unit sales slipped 25 percent year-over-year, while valuations tanked about 30 percent.  It’s not a pretty picture, and potentially part of a broader, global slowdown in digital sales.

But the far bigger story is happening on the physical side, with some potentially massive lessons for the broader industry to ponder.  Last year, CDs and physical formats suddenly started ticking upward in Japan, thanks partly to a reinvestment in physical packaging and sales by J-Pop, K-Pop, and other genres (more on that fascinating trend, here).

Whether that continues into 2013 remains an open question, though things could remain stable.  CD sales are slumping several percentage points during the first quarter, though overall physical sales (including assets like music DVDs) are entirely level.

So in that ol’ distressed industry parlance, flat = the new ‘up’.  But physical means a lot more industry revenue, simply because pound-for-pound, physical pays more and supports far greater product bundling.  And in Japan, physical is easily ten times larger than digital in terms of valuation.  Here’s the math.


All of which raises the uncomfortable question:


Are markets like the US guilty of over-zealously embracing digital, at the expense of investing in creative presentations of CDs, vinyl, and other physical formats?


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