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6 Intriguing Facts About Music Sales So Far This Year

People love Macklemore, streaming music is taking over, and indie fans are buying more vinyl than ever before. Oh, and there's this guy called Justin Timberlake who is very popular.

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Nielsen SoundScan and Billboard released their annual mid-year report on the state of the music industry this week. This is what we learned by looking at their data.

1. Justin Timberlake is the biggest star in music right now.

Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience is far and away the best-selling album of 2013 – with 2,037,000 sold so far, it's the only album to sell over a million copies this year. (Bruno Mars is the closest, with 985,000 copies of Unorthodox Jukebox sold since January, though it came out in December 2012.) It's also the best-selling digital album and the best-selling physical album, and the record's lead single "Suit & Tie" is the fourth most-played radio song and eighth highest-selling digital track.

2. People looooooooooove Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

The rap duo's album, The Heist, is the seventh highest-selling album overall, with 653,000 sold in the United States since January. The Heist is mainly driven by digital sales – 470,000 of those sales came from digital retailers – and the individual track sales for "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us" are through the roof, with the former topping the list of the best-selling digital tracks. Both songs were released in 2012, but just in this calendar year, "Thrift Shop" has sold 5,558,000 copies, and "Can't Hold Us" has sold 3,129,000. "Thrift Shop" is also the fifth most-played song on the radio, with approximately 363,000 spins on terrestrial radio since the beginning of the year.

On top of all that, "Thrift Shop" has been streamed around 186,778,000 times this year, as a combined total of streaming services like Spotify and Rdio, and videos on YouTube and Vevo. This is a phenomenal success, even more so because the music was released on Macklemore's own label, so he and Lewis are getting an enormous chunk of all that revenue.


3. Streaming audio is slowly taking over.

Overall sales for digital tracks in the first half of 2013 fell 2.4% to 682 million downloads from 698 million in 2012, while audio and video music streams increased 24% to a staggering 50.9 billion. It's by far the biggest area of growth in the music industry, and a clear indication that consumer habits are shifting away from downloading in favor of accessing music from the "cloud."

Aside from Macklemore, hip-hop has been strangely absent from the top end of the sale charts this year, but the genre is doing very well on streaming services with huge numbers for Drake, Lil Wayne, and A$AP Rocky. Also, since these numbers include all authorized versions of a song on YouTube, it's a place where viral hits like "Harlem Shake" and "Gangnam Style" can dominate. It's worth noting that while Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" is a big ol' hit by any measure, it was boosted a bit by becoming the basis for a variety of memes earlier this year.

These numbers are just a fraction of overall sales for all of these albums — Daft Punk sold a total of 614,000 copies of Random Access Memories in this period, for a sense of scale — but in some cases, for artists like Tame Impala and Atoms for Peace, it's a healthy chunk of their total sales. Vinyl is a niche category that has been steadily growing over the past few years, and sales for all non-used wax went up 33.5% since last year. As you can see, vinyl consumers tend to be rock fans, and it's an area where indie labels out-perform majors.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but it's striking when you compare digital and physical sales. The highest echelon of top-selling stars like Justin Timberlake, Mumford & Sons, Macklemore, and Bruno Mars sell very well in either format, but if you compare these two charts, you can see a clear generational divide between Millennial favorites dominating in digital, while baby boomer-friendly acts and country stars do far better on CD.