Music Downloads Pass Retail Book Sales

Two news items featuring Nielsen data caught my eye today. The first was a report in the PW Newsletter saying that Nielsen BookScan put retail book sales for 2009 at 751.7 million units. Since Nielsen estimates that BookScan accounts for 75% of retail book sales, that would put 2009 retail book sales in the U.S. at 1 billion units.

An article in the WSJ today quoted the Nielsen SoundScan numbers for the music recorded 1.16 billion individual paid downloads of songs, the majority probably coming from iTunes. In addition, they reported some 373.9 million albums sold in 2009, both as CDs and as downloads. Some of these "songs" are no doubt audiobooks, but I have no idea if anybody tracks those percentages.

What struck me, if you trust Nielsen data and their error band, is that in 2009 the number of paid downloads of music singles was greater than the number of books sold at retailers. That's a pretty stupendous social statistic, especially if you make the assumption that most singles are purchased by younger people and most books are purchased by older people.

I couldn't find the Nielsen VideoScan numbers for 2009 anywhere, it would have been interesting to see how DVD sales stack up against books and music.

If you want another context for these numbers, on their busiest day this year, Amazon shipped over 7 million items, worldwide. Amazon actually sells more books overseas these days than in the U.S., but just for fun, let’s say that half of all Amazon item shipments that day were in the U.S., totaling 3.5 million. Now let’s assume Amazon could get that many items packaged for shipping 365 days a year. That would mean that Amazon alone has an operation capable of shipping over a billion books a year, equal to the entire retail book market in the U.S. as estimated by Nielsen.

It's something to wonder at:-)

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