Music Downloads Plummet in U.S., but Sales of Vinyl Records and Streaming Surge

Vinyl record sales hit 9.2 million in the U.S. in 2014, up 52% from 2013, according to Nielsen SoundScan.ENLARGE

Vinyl record sales hit 9.2 million in the U.S. in 2014, up 52% from 2013, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Zuma Press

Jan. 1, 2015 1:09 a.m. ET

Sales of downloaded albums and songs plummeted in the U.S. in 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScan, offset by rises in vinyl-record sales and streaming services, such as Spotify AB and Google Inc. ’s YouTube. 

Paid downloads of albums and songs declined 9% and 12% respectively, the company said. American consumers bought 257 million albums in 2014, 106.5 million of them downloads. 

Vinyl-record sales of 9.2 million were the highest since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991, and a 52% increase from 2013.

The company didn’t break out compact-disc sales in a preliminary year-end report issued late Wednesday. 

Digital song sales fell to 1.1 billion from 1.26 billion in 2013. 

The use of streaming grew sharply to 164 billion songs—a 54% increase from 106 billion in 2013, the company said. 

But the music industry might need even stronger growth in the future if streaming is to make up for continued sales declines. 

Using the industry’s standard conversions, counting 1,500 song streams or 10 individual song downloads as an album sale, overall music consumption didn’t change significantly from 2013 to 2014. 

The biggest album of the year in the U.S. was Taylor Swift ’s “1989,” which sold more than 3.66 million copies. 

The “Frozen” soundtrack and Sam Smith ’s “In the Lonely Hour,” were No. 2 and No. 3. Pentatonix, an a capella pop group, had the fourth-biggest seller, with “That’s Christmas to Me.”

Pharrell Williams ’ “Happy” was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S., with more than 6.4 million sold. 

It was followed by John Legend ’s “All of Me” and Katy Perry ’s “Dark Horse.”

Write to Ethan Smith at