A mere 3 years after its introduction, in 2006, downloads already had the highest number of yearly sales ever recorded by the music industry. Standard on the likes iTunes was a $1 price for a song and $10 for an album. This felt just wrong as a single was now 4 times cheaper than in the past while the album was still just as expensive, decreasing a lot the interest of the latter. Most big albums still only have 4 singles, cherry-picking them for $4 was much more logical rather than buying them plus 4 or 5 other fillers for $10 overall. As a result, and as shown on graphic displayed on top of this paragraph, while sales kept increasing, revenues kept going down.
Thus, the entire industry was awaiting for the inflection point, when digital sales revenue increases will top physical sales revenue drops. From 2010, the point is believed to be reached and all executives think the crisis will soon be something from the past. Figures really looked that way as from 2010 to 2013 worldwide overall revenue decreased a mere 6% in 3 years from $15,9 billion to $15 billion.
During that period, we attended to Adele tsunami. The most striking fact in this success wasn’t its size as several albums from the past did just as well or better, but rather how unique such a success was in the last 10 years. Since the 60s, almost each year had its pack of blockbusters, but that trend suddenly stopped in mid-00s. This absence of blockbusters wasn’t that much due to the overall decrease in sales as it may seem. The main reason is how much fragmented the market got. In each country, local industries have been developed and local artists are often favored by consumers. Tastes became more fragmented as well as digital world and the ever-increasing number of radios and TV channels enables fans of rock / metal / pop / rap / jazz / electro / world music or whatever specialized music to focus solely on their favorite sounds. This is why 2005-2010 period saw many albums reach incredible sales here and there (Nickelback in the US, Amy Winehouse in UK, P!nk in Australia etc.) but none reaching A-league status in all markets worldwide, none until Adele‘s 21.