Why has Japan's CD market suddenly gone into decline?

After years of defying Western trends, the drop is causing a big dent in global music sales

With tales of the music industry's demise being relayed for a while now, it should come as little surprise that a 3.9 per cent slump in 2013 global music sales was announced last week.

What is perhaps more interesting was the reason behind the decline in sales: industry commenters have pointed the finger at Japan. The country, which has the second largest music market in the world after the US, suffered a 16.7 per cent decrease in revenue.

But why the sudden slide? Robert Poole, of Something Drastic, a Tokyo-based music promotion and events company, says that Japan is seen as unique in the developed world for its reliance on CDs and the lack of user-friendly music download services on smartphones.

"The rest of the world has seen a huge decline in music sales in the last decade, due to the very rocky transition to digital downloads. With physical sales of CDs having fallen off a cliff and rampant piracy, Japan has long been responsible for propping up world sales. International markets are naturally increasing, as they find ways to recover from years of decline and better enforce legal music downloading and streaming. Meanwhile, Japan's music market bubble is only now deflating to levels that might be expected."

CDs in Japan are sold on a fixed-price system (each one about £18), and Poole points to the popularity of Japanese idol pop groups such as AKB48 and HKT48, who encourage fans to buy multiple copies of the same single, for artificially bloating Japan's sales figures over the previous few years. "Each purchase allows the fan to vote in elections that allow them to nominate which members of the group get promoted to the front of the group or sing the next song," he says. "These groups regularly sell over one million units per single. Compared to the UK, where only a few thousand sales can top the charts… Japan is an exceptional market."

It might seem curious that a country famed for its love of the latest technology is still buying CDs. But Poole suggests this might have more to do with the Japanese being less likely to be involved with music piracy. "It's a feature of a unique society in which stealing is considered immoral even on this level. As the CD market remained strong, the major labels were under less pressure than other nations to develop a digital sales system."

While the first digital services in the West were illegal ones such as Napster, the major labels in Japan created their own system, called Rekochoku. However, this was created before smartphones, so users can download a song but are unable to transfer it when they buy a new phone. "Since then, numerous systems for streaming and downloading have been launched and developed, but none have taken a firm hold on the market," observes Poole. "And none, including iTunes, have a big enough catalogue from all labels to be considered the go-to option." There appears to be a gap in the market and it's affecting sales.

Along with South Korea, Japan is the only country in 2013 to have a top 10 album rundown comprising entirely local artists. A few Western acts, such as One Direction and Taylor Swift, sell well, but really, the industry is more or less self-contained.

"Japan is often dubbed the Galapagos Island for technology and entertainment, due to its inward, domestic-centric industry," notes Poole. "Local music is not developed for overseas markets. Because domestic revenues are so much higher, the labels don't see value in investing in local acts with overseas appeal. By the same token, international acts usually find their music doesn't resonate."

That's not to say acts never make waves in the West. The latest act to show crossover appeal is Babymetal, a trio of teenage girls that combines two of Japan's favourite genres: J-pop and metal. Their eponymous debut album has entered the iTunes top 10 in seven countries, including the UK. But Ayumi Hamasaki, the best-selling Japanese solo artist of all time, is little-known outside her home country. As is B'z, a Japanese rock duo that boasts 80 million record sales. What they don't have is global fame. But with a music market the size of Japan's, they're probably not too bothered about that.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star