Updated: Feb 10
There is no doubt that digital music is an intangible product, almost like it was at the beginning of music history. Except when there were no records and the only way to listen to it was live, music was less than omnipresent and only available to a privileged few. Today, anyone can afford to listen to music 24/7, anywhere and anytime. It comes as no surprise that digital music sales have long exceeded physical sales, and streaming services like Spotify, Tidal or iTunes have been dominating the global music market for a few years already.
If we start analyzing why digital sales exceed physical sales daily, we have an endless list of reasons to list, (unfortunately). As a central point, the fact that nowadays most of the new generations listening to music do not have the patience/interest to listen to an entire album from beginning to end. Many people prefer to listen to single songs rather than whole albums, and this can be done more easily in digital formats via playlists and algorithmic song recommendations.
Today, physical formats still dominate the Japanese music market, representing 80% of music sales.
There are fewer and fewer record stores around the world that vibrate that music-loving energy of being a 100% musical place, a place where you do not clash with souvenirs or cups with the logo of your favorite band. However, at a time when the physical format - and specifically the CD - has been in free fall for years, in Japan today, physical formats still dominate the music market representing 80% of sales and positioning the Asian country behind the United States as the second-largest music market in the world. Also, the physical stores that can be found in Japan add up to more than double that of the American country and triple those of Germany - the country with the world's third-largest supermarket.
Specifically, according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), there are 6,000 physical record stores in Japan. In comparison, there are about 1,900 stores in the United States. Last November, the American chain of music stores Tower Records, which closed all its physical locations in the U.S. more than 14 years ago, revived as an online store, while in Japan, its subsidiary 'Tower Records Japan Inc. has 85 stores across the country. In Japan, the release date of an album still holds great importance, as queues of people waiting in the record stores, posters, autograph signings, special editions - all trends from the past for most of the global market - are still vibrant traditions in Japan. It is not in vain that record companies still nurture a whole wave of J-Pop bands with economic figures capable of competing with technological companies of high popularity at a global level. Due to the hype created around it by connecting intangibility with a physical experience of purchase and fandom, the local music genre is listened to by 66% of music consumers in Japan.
66% of music consumers in Japon listen to J-Pop.
Another striking reason for the still popular consumption of the physical format over the digital one is that, curiously enough, the Japanese prefer to use cash over paying by credit card. On top of that, they are quite reticent about "plastic money" and there are still plenty of businesses, even in cities like Tokyo, where you can't pay by card.
Despite its strength, year after year there is a decrease in the sales figures of CDs, little by little, the legal digital platforms are infiltrating the Japanese society to occupy the place of the physical. Beyond all the mentioned exceptions, sooner or later the systematic globalization will end up winning in Japan, too. But for the moment, the sector of the physical copies is still putting up a good fight, securing its global seat at the table largely due to Japanese trends.