CD sales: Not music to the ears

Revenue from music sales in CD, vinyl and tape formats fell 73% from 2011 to last year

Mr Paul Lim, owner of Roxy Records & Trading, said his store is being kept afloat by a niche customer base. It carries music from local artists and sells tickets to their concerts.
Mr Paul Lim, owner of Roxy Records & Trading, said his store is being kept afloat by a niche customer base. It carries music from local artists and sells tickets to their concerts.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Revenue from the sale of music in the CD, vinyl and tape formats has suffered a huge decline, falling 73 per cent from US$12.8 million (S$18.1 million) in 2011 to US$3.4 million last year.

This is according to the latest data from the Recording Industry Association (Singapore).

Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) regional director for Asia-Pacific, said the global decline for such formats last year was 8.1 per cent while Singapore suffered a 23 per cent fall.

"The decline seems to be sharper in Singapore as compared with some other territories," said Mr Ang.

He added that IFPI research indicates that more than 60 per cent of consumers here go to platforms such as YouTube for their music.

He said: "One key reason is that Singaporeans have easy access to digital platforms that provide free and legal content."

Asked if the market is expected to shrink further, he would say only that he did not expect it to hit zero: "There will always be a core group of music lovers who will buy the CDs of their favourite singers."

In the battle to stave off competition from digitised music and piracy, chains such as Gramophone and HMV Singapore diversified into products such as computer games and speaker docks.

But after 22 years in business, Gramophone closed its last store here in 2013. In September, HMV drew the shutters on its last Singapore store in Marina Square.

Earlier casualties were American Tower Records and local chain Sembawang Music Centre. They folded in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

The stores that still remain are fighting to stay alive.

Mr Paul Lim, 58, the owner of Roxy Records & Trading, said he is keeping his store at Excelsior Shopping Centre open for "sentimental reasons".

Mr Lim, who inherited the business from his parents, said: "If this wasn't a family business, I would have said goodbye to it a long time ago. It isn't profitable."

He said that despite rising rents and manpower costs, the store is being kept afloat by a niche customer base.

It carries music from local artists and sells tickets to some of their concerts. It also sells heavy metal, progressive and psychedelic music from less known bands.

Singapore Management University associate professor of marketing education Seshan Ramaswami thinks that the concept of a CD shop as a physical store selling video games, magazines and accessories is "pretty much dead".

The market is not a narrowly defined one any more, he said, adding that consumers visit sites such as YouTube, Spotify, Netflix and iTunes, and artists now reach out directly through various applications.

"And of course there are various illegal sites all jostling for space. It is difficult to tell how that will shake out in the medium term," he said, adding that the new-style CD shop has to be different.

"The store itself should be just one of the ways of distributing music," he said, adding that it would not need a huge physical stock; but customers should be able to order from a much larger catalogue.

"It could be involved in many other music-related activities, from organising artist interviews and informal gigs in the store to having service stations with knowledgeable sales staff helping newbie music and video buyers with buying and downloading music and videos from their own online store," he added.

Music lovers such as Mr Eddy See, 52, is among those keeping the CD and vinyl formats alive. He has tens of thousands of CDs and vinyl records.

The accountant, who is a father of two, listens to all genres of music, from jazz and country to classical and heavy metal.

He reckons that he buys about a hundred new CDs and vinyl records each month. He occasionally downloads songs to listen in his car. But nothing, he said, beats CDs and vinyl records.

"It's a different experience altogether, nothing beats holding a record in your hand. The fundamental difference is in the quality of the music," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'CD sales: Not music to the ears'. Print Edition | Subscribe