Australia's music market rebounding

Digital sales offer hope Down Under

BRISBANE, Australia -- Australia's recorded music market has begun to show signs of recovery. New analysis of wholesale figures from labels body ARIA reveals the recorded music business grew slightly in the first half of 2009, its booming digital market outpacing the ongoing decline of the physical business.

The country's record market -- including CDs, DVDs, downloads and master ringtones -- registered a 0.4% rise in value to $178.6 million Australian ($153.8 million) during the six months to June 30. Australian consumers' blossoming love affair with digital downloads led the revival.

"What we're seeing is the first tentative evidence of a return to growth," said Ed St John, chairman of ARIA and chairman/CEO of Warner Music Australia.

Record buyers spent $18.1 million Australian ($15.6 million) on digital tracks, up 36.5% on the first half of 2009, and downloaded 16.7 million tracks, up 37.8% in volume. Australian downloaders purchased more digital albums than ever before, spending $9.3 million ($8 million), up 56.8%, on 974,000 albums, a rise of 64.1%. The digital album now accounts for 8% of total album sales, versus 4.7% in the same period of 2008.

ARIA's "digital other" category -- which comprises revenue from digital music videos, mobile ringback tunes, streams, and subscriptions and ad-supported sales -- more than doubled in value to $6.3 million Australian ($5.4 million), up 135%. However, the mobile master ringtones market continues to evaporate, to a value of $3.4 million Australian ($2.9 million), down 14.8%.

On the flip side, the CD albums business continued its downward path in the six-month period, declining 4.5% in value to $125.5 million Australian ($108 million), and down 5.9% in volume to 15.2 million units. Worryingly, the music DVD/video format registered a 23.40% slide in value to $14.4 million Australian ($12.4 million) on 1.6 million units shipped, a fall of 18.4%. CD singles continue to fade, shrinking by 44% in value to dip below $1 million Australian -at $924,000 Australian ($795,000) -- for the first time. All told, physical formats fell by 6.9% in value to $141.5 million Australian ($121.8 million).

Homegrown talent had a solid presence on the ARIA top 100 albums and singles chart in the first half of the year, contributing 23 albums (21.3% of top 100 sales) and 16 singles (13.8% of top 100 sales). Executives are hopeful the good times will continue in the second half, thanks to an eye-catching release schedule which features new sets from local stars including Wolfmother, Guy Sebastian, Powderfinger and Vanessa Amorosi and recordings from an international line-up including Robbie Williams, Pearl Jam, Rihanna, Norah Jones, Whitney Houston and a Madonna greatest hits set.

"Retailers are telling us this could be the best music Christmas in years, with products for every possible demographic," notes St John. "Music, and the music industry, is proving very resilient in these challenging times."