We're less than a day past 2014, and Nielsen has already released its summary of what 2014 meant to the music business. Overall, the news was bad: total US album sales dropped 11 percent, a shortfall of 32 million, ending up at 257 million albums sold. Even digital sales weren't immune to the trend, falling 9 percent since 2013 to only 106 million total sales in 2014. The only bright spot was vinyl sales, which grew more than 50 percent to a total of 9.2 million sales, the highest year for vinyl sales since Nielsen began tracking them in 1991.
If people weren't buying albums, it's because they didn't have to. The rise of streaming services like Spotify and Rdio has made it much easier to listen to music without buying it, and 2014 saw those services continue their rapid growth. American listeners streamed 164 billion songs and videos in 2014, up a shocking 54 percent from last year. (The numbers include music videos streamed through official YouTube channels like Vevo, which have also seen growth in recent years.) The year's top-selling album was Taylor Swift's 1989, which reached 3.6 million in sales — helped in part by Swift's rejection of streaming services as bad for musicians. Swift removed all of her albums from Spotify earlier this year, as part of a larger promotional strategy for 1989.