Worst week yet for US classical sales

Worst week yet for US classical sales


norman lebrecht

February 04, 2015

The latest data from Nielsen Soundscan make gloomy reading.

After a Christmas upturn, sustained into January, only one classical record – the Ultimate Bocelli sold more than 350 copies last week.

Behind Bocelli was André Rieu and behind him Mr Pants.

At number four was Sonya Yoncheva, with just over 200 sales in the biggest market in the world.


sonya yoncheva1


  • ML says:

    I splurged quite a bit on CDs from November to January than I would like to admit (and now staring at credit card bills). However, I bought neither Bocelli nor Rieu, but various big box sets instead…

    I do not think I am the odd one out there.

  • Hank Drake says:

    I’d be interested in knowing what constitutes a US sale. For example, I buy most of my CDs via Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de for two reasons: Even with shipping, the prices are lower; the items are released several weeks earlier.

    Judging by the various online forums, I know I’m hardly alone in this respect – many Americans buy from non-domestic outlets.

    Brick and mortar CD stores largely don’t exist for Classical music in Cleveland, with the exception of the Cleveland Orchestra store which has a limited selection.

  • David Boxwell says:

    I’m one of the 200! Sonya, mon amour, 200 Americans love you!

  • Steve says:

    A unit sale in the U.S. is considered any one of the following:

    1. A physical CD purchased through a U.S. retail store
    2. A digital album download via a U.S. based digital retailer
    3. 10 tracks of an album = 1 digital album sale
    4. Approx 15000 streams of a track equates to the same (I think…)
    5. A CD sold at a venue (concert hall, musician to audience sale)

    #1 assumes the physical retailer reports to Soundscan (the few left almost all do)
    #5 An artist is supposed to get a document provided by Soundscan signed off by the venue and then the artist/management sends it Soundscan to get the scans.

  • MacroV says:

    I wonder if the concern is overstated. In general people are buying fewer CDs, as there are so many other ways to consume music; streaming of orchestra broadcasts, Digital Concert Hall, YouTube. I have over 1,000 classical CDs that I’ve acquired over the past 30 years, but have bought only a handful in the last five years. Understandably, companies need to sell copies if they’re going to get a return on their investment, but sales are not necessarily an indicator of the popularity of the genre.

  • Edith Portman says:

    The fact that the labels are still offering up André Rieu and Andrea Bocelli speaks volumes as to why the so-called classical industry is collapsing and on its deathbed. Fifteen years years ago, Universal Classics were offering André Rieu compilations and new releases as “classical” repertoire. The same for Bocelli. They are doing the same today, as they don’t have much else to attract major sales. The game is over for them and Universal Classics, in particular, has succeeded in gutting the business, of pursuing a narrow policy of mass appeal entertainment music and passing it off as classical repertoire, alienating hundreds of thousands of devoted and formally committed buyers in the process. It is checkmate for these guys and the sooner Universal Music accepts an act of euthanasia, the better off the entire world of real classical music will be.

    • Anon says:

      @ Edith,
      The fact that major labels continue to offer music and artists which the general public actually wish to buy and connect with is somehow an indication that the label has nothing to offer and is dead, game over? Er, right.

      Ignore the records if you like, and just look at the concerts and fan clubs of Bocelli and Rieu compared to ‘core’ classical artists – these are artists with a huge following, It is clear that if one label stopped offering these products then another label (perhaps one not known for Classical music, but which simply sees a commercial opportunity) would take up the challenge.

      How would classical music be better if Universal Classics closed its doors as you suggest (leaving artists from Bartoli to Barenboim, Grosvenor, Uchida, Trifinov, Wang, Mutter, Ashkenazy and many more without a home), and say Island or BlueNote or Columbia took on Bocelli and the others?

      • Edith Portman says:

        I think that would be a great idea. If Universal Classics would give the needed focus and attention to what is really classical music, they wouldn’t need to be so dependent on all of the other fake classical stuff. Their approach is so simplistic, short-term and naive, i.e. change the definition of what is classical music by pushing classical charlatans as the real deal and then sideline the rest, causing more damage, confusion and long-term consequences in the process. The serious classical buyer is not a fool, quite the contrary. They are also more numerous than you imagine. They simply no longer trust labels who try to sell them a Lada and tell them that it is a Rolls Royce. Nothing wrong with Rieu and nothing wrong with Bocelli, if you like fast food. It would be like a once five star restaurant forging a partnership with McDonalds, selling their hamburgers under their five star restaurant’s brand and presenting them to their clientele as five star cuisine. How long would that last? What Universal Music is doing for so many years is no different. Do they really take the public to be total fools? If somebody would simply euthanise the company, I’m sure that there could be a better arrangement for marketing both fast food and gourmet food in a more transparent and honest way. Universal Music has proven time and again, that it is totally incapable and actually a danger to any true music loving person.

  • Prewartreasure says:

    I speak only for my own preferences, of course, but once upon a time, not so many years ago, I would cheerfully sit in front of a decent Hifi system for hours on end listening to symphonic music, even opera and ballet, but no more. My large collection of CDs, lovingly collected, sit unplayed these days much to the amusement of Mrs Prewartreasure, who, for years, suffered the idiosyncratic conduct of a husband whose eyes seemed permenantly closed!

    Having now sampled the joy of well produced DVDs – ‘BluRay” in particular, suddenly the pleasure of visuals on screen (in most cases) exceed, exceed by far even the most fertile imagination.

  • Sergei says:

    I’m sorry for companies, but I haven’t buy a single CD in last 10 years. I’ve about 2000, and I were living from YouTube last 5 years. I’m a rarities maniac, and rarities are by hundreds on YT. Unknown and forgotten composers. works and players you don’t find anywhere now, recordings OOP for decades, old vinyl and 78 recordings not on CD..¿Where could I find today Grigoras Dinicu recordings, or Ysaye 6 solo violin sonatas by Yuval Yaron? Nowhere except YT.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I can’t imagine how physical distribution even works on those numbers.

  • Anon says:

    In the interest of a fuller picture, the Bocelli disc sold nearly 1,000 copies, and in musical terms consists solely of “proper” opera arias – not a crossover hit in sight.

  • ML says:

    I would say many of these well-meaning discussions have been off-the-mark. I have been listening to music seriously for close to 30 years (this, of course, is nothing compared to many of our much more experienced discussants here) and collecting CDs for about the same length of time. While it is true that in recent years many of those big labels have ceased to offer anything meaningful (with such notable exceptions as Karajan 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Reiner, Monteux, Heifetz, Rubinstein, and the like), the independent labels such as Hyperion, HM, BIS, CPO, ONYX, Wigmore Hall, Orfeo, Timpani, and so forth have up the ante and been churning out one CD more interesting than another and I could barely keep up. My purchases of new releases largely consist of their releases, and my musical life has been enriched by these great labels enormously. I would say the future is bright if we look at these independent labels. (Who needs Karajan adagio ad nausea?)

    By the way, if any of you know where to get Australian Eloquence at an affordable price AND shipping (Buywell is expensive in shipping to the U.S.), please kindly share your information! I really appreciate it.

  • Dave says:

    This is so sad. I bought Sonya’s cd. It was enjoyable. I especially liked the piece from Les Contes D’Hoffmann.