Are Digital Sales Hurting Musicians Equally? Using Analytics to Answer Big Questions

To be sure, ours is an era marked by big data. Never before have everyday citizens, governments, companies, and journalists had access to such massive quantities of varied information. Against this backdrop, plenty of people are answering important and, in some cases, not-so-important questions.

For instance, should Las Vegas have received a new NHL franchise? No doubt that plenty of possibly inebriated people debated the topic across North America. What if, however, we could look at that query through the lens of big data and analytics? It turns out that, at least according to the 538 Data Lab, Vegas is a terrible place for a hockey team.

More than ever, data and analytics are collectively augmenting our understanding of trends and events. Another case in point: music. Ever since the birth of Napster, sales of physical music units have plummeted. In the last decade, thanks to legal digital music alternatives such as iTunes and Spotify--and no shortage of pirate sites--sales have continued their precipitous decline:

Still, it's clear that certain artists have weathered the storm better than others. Exhibit A: Adele, the English singer and songwriter not yet 30 years old.

Consider the work performed by the folks at Analytics@American, an online Master's in Business Analytics. They did some digging and discovered that her enormous fan base didn't mind shelling out hard-earned money for physical copies of her albums. The charts below display her impressive album sales in this era of streaming music. Are album sales declining? Sure, but Adele has managed to routinely top the charts.

Click on the image above to view the Adelytics site. As the best contemporary data visualizations do, this one provides interactivity. It allows users to ask questions of the data within the page or app.

The benefits of increased interactivity run the gamut. As I write in The Visual Organization, media companies can keep readers engaged with their content for greater periods of time. Governments can provide greater transparency into their activities. Companies can minimize the irksome back-and-forth among employees and IT departments.

Simon Says

Make no mistake: Static bar charts and treemaps can certainly provide users, employees, and customers with visual insights.

If an interactive data visualization and analytics can answer questions about Adele's music sales, then it's fair to ask: What can't they (at least in part) answer?