In the first half of 2012, catalog albums — the industry’s term for discs released more than 18 months ago — sold 76.6 million units. New albums tallied 73.9 units. It’s a narrow victory, but the margin will increase slowly, steadily over time. New will never top old again.
What’s going on? Industry executives point the finger at online piracy, streaming and the death of radio. Huge chunks of fans complain there has been nothing worth listening to since the Beatles broke up or Led Zeppelin called it quits or Kurt Cobain killed himself. Those explanations are bogus.
There is a simple, straightforward reason so many catalog titles dot Billboard’s album charts this summer: price cuts.
Labels and retailers have slashed prices on catalog releases, making them, on average, $5 cheaper than new releases. This has had a dramatic effect. Phil Collins couldn’t be less hip, but last week, when Amazon’s MP3 store cut Collins’ “…Hits” to 99 cents, Mr. Sussudio popped in at No. 6, ahead of such contemporary stars as One Direction, Chris Brown and Maroon 5 on the Billboard 200.
Or maybe, just maybe, the music isn’t as good as the old stuff.