Long-dead singles rise from the groove

Music industry: Euro 96 theme helps fuel surge in teenagers' favourite format
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The Independent Culture
The death of the single, mourned for over two decades, has been greatly exaggerated. New figures show the traditional music format for teenagers is making a comeback.

This summer has seen a surge in the sale of singles, due partly to the Euro 96 theme Football's Coming Home, and to the first release in five years from George Michael.

Britain now has almost 17 per cent of the world market in singles compared to only 5.9 per cent of the album market.

According to Peter Scaping, secretary general of the British Phonographic Industry: "There are some elements about the structure of British society which make the single an immediately responsive element in recorded music entertainment."

There is also a mundane reason behind the success of the single. At pounds 4.49 its price has not changed for five years; and this price is often halved by record shops in promotion wars.

But the resurrection of the single has been accompanied by the death throes of cassettes, which are continuing to lose ground to compact discs, following a dramatic fall last year.

The music industry is now so taken with the surge in singles that it is endeavouring to rewrite history and claim that the decline in singles- buying may have been a myth, as proper figures were never compiled in the 1960s.

The new statistical handbook from the British Phonographic Industry contains the statement: "In recent years, there have been several misinformed press stories suggesting that having a number-one single is not the achievement that it once was.

"Unfortunately, there are no statistics from the 1960s available to test the theory. It is true, however, that the number of singles released now is far greater than was the case 30 years ago, so the feat of attaining the top position could hardly be described as easy."

The latest BPI statistical handbook, out today, shows that singles sales were particularly strong in 1995, when more than 70 million were sold for the first time in 10 years.

The album market was 196 million. Cassette albums were the only casualty. The sale of 53 million marked a drop of 2.6 million on the previous year.

But the figures for this summer, which are not included in the handbook, show the singles market is continuing to grow. Over 18 million were bought between April and June this year, almost 6 per cent more than in the same quarter the previous year, and 4 million more than in the equivalent quarter of 1993.

Of the 18 million, 11 million were CD singles, a 7 per cent increase in this format from the previous year. About 4.5 million were cassette singles, a drop of 4.6 per cent drop from the previous year and 2 million were 12in vinyl singles, a drop of 2 per cent. Only 600,000 were traditional 7in vinyl "45"s, a drop of 0.5 per cent.

The cash generated from sales of singles rose by 11 per cent compared to the summer of 1995, with customers paying pounds 28.5m in only three months. Over the same three months, 40 million albums were sold.

The main artists behind the singles bonanza were The Fugees, with their version of the soul classic Killing Me Softly, Gina G, Mark Morrison, Baddiel/Skinner/Lightning Seeds, with the Euro 96 anthem, and George Michael.

The other notable aspect of the figures released by the BPI is the way budget-price classical albums are increasing their share of the market. Last year 30.8 per cent of classical-album sales were budget price, 19.7 per cent were mid-price and 49.5 per cent were full price. In 1990 budget- price albums accounted for only 20 per cent of the market.