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US album sales hit their lowest point on record

Music Industry Feels Strain As Consumers Go Online
Music Industry Feels Strain As Consumers Go Online
Scott Barbour/Getty

Music streaming is killing album sales. This week, only 3.97 million albums were sold in the United States — the lowest number since Nielsen Soundscan began tracking album sales in 1991. It's the first time in history sales have fallen below 4 million units in a week. The top selling album this week was Wiz Khalifa's Blacc Hollywood, which sold 90,000 copies.

"Sales have been going in the wrong direction all year," an unnamed record label sales head told Billboard. "I guess its overdue, when you look at [the growth of streaming]."

gif of music industry change

revenue in the music industry broken down by year (Digital Music News)

It's normal for album sales to decline over the course of the year (they did last year). What's problematic about this week's number is that the decline is showing no signs of stopping. No weekly unit total has risen above 4.5 million since Jack White's Lazaretto, released the first week of June.

There's hope for the rest of the year with Taylor Swift's 1989 on the way, as well as the year-end shopping rush. But the diminishing sales are a sign that streaming is gaining popularity, and that could be bad news for record companies.