According to Nielsen Soundscan data out of the US, old records--what the industry calls "catalog items," releases that are more than 18 months old--outside new releases for the very first time.
In the first six months of 2012, catalog items moved 76.6 million units. Compare that with 73.9 million current albums.
This has many industry folks going "WTF?" But the explanations are quite simple:
1. There haven't been any major blockbusters this year. The best-selling album in recent months has been Adele's 21 which was released on January 11, 2011. That means as of tomorrow, it too will qualify as a catalog album.
2. Catalog items are really, really appealing in terms of price. With releases such as Guns 'N Roses Greatest Hits selling for as little as $5.99, no wonder people are buying them. Compare that price to $9.99 and higher for a current CD
3. It's helped that people like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Adam Yauch have died over past couple of years. Death is good for business.
4. Labels are getting better at exploiting their back catalogs with reissues, special editions and box sets. Making the most of old product is a very, very major priority for the majors these days, not only in the US and Canada but globally. Expect to see an increased emphasis on older material.