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Portables Poised To Dominate Audio Industry, Statistics Show

In an historic shift, the portable audio industry has grown larger than the home audio industry and by year’s end could exceed the size of the home and car audio industries combined, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) statistics show.

The reasons include an imploding home audio market, a stalled car audio aftermarket and Apple, whose iPods are overwhelmingly responsible for an astounding 255 percent increase in factory-level MP3 portable sales through August to $1.98 billion.

Factory-level sales of portable audio (including home radios) grew 88.8 percent during the January through August period, to $2.58 billion despite declining sales of headphone-CD and -tape players and boomboxes. The category’s growth drove up total audio sales (home, after-market car and portable combined) for the first eight months of the year by 13.9 percent to $5.3 billion.

Because of their surge, portable audio sales are well on their way to exceed total home audio sales (components and systems combined) for the first time ever in calendar 2005 — and by a wide margin. For the year-to-date, home audio sales shrank 29.8 percent to $1.25 billion and were running at less than half the volume of portable audio.

Portable audio’s year-to-date volume of $2.58 billion also came close to exceeding $2.72 billion in sales generated by the home and car audio markets combined. With four months to go in the year, portable sales also came close to breaking their 12-month $2.8 billion record set in 1994, CEA statistics show.

Underscoring Apple’s responsibility in turning around the portable market, NPD TechWorld found that Apple accounted for almost three quarters of MP3-portable retail-level unit sales during the first nine months of 2005, or 72.5 percent. NPD also found that Apple more than tripled its unit sales compared to the year-ago period and “has fueled most of the growth for the [MP3 player] category, which has doubled versus a year ago,” a spokeswoman said.

Although Apple’s growth is driving portables’ emerging audio-market dominance, imploding sales of home audio components and systems also did their part, the CEA statistics show. Home component sales dropped 31.2 percent for the year to date, to $492.6 million, while home-system sales fell 28.9 percent to $756.2 million. Aftermarket car audio sales, including plug-and-play satellite radios, were down 2.4 percent for the year to date, to $1.47 billion.

Unit sales of home audio products also tanked. Sales of home components, HTiBs, and home compact systems each were down by double-digit percentage rates through August, CEA said.

In dollars, home audio component sales dropped for the 11th consecutive month, following 12 consecutive months of growth. This year’s monthly declines included three of the steepest one-month declines in components in at least 15 years: 49.9 percent in August, 52.9 percent in July and 51.7 percent in June.

Component sales are a shade of their former selves, having peaked in 1993 at $1.93 billion, as are system sales, which peaked in 2001 at $2.68 billion.

For home systems, sales were off in August for the ninth consecutive month, each month falling at double-digit percentage rates ranging from December 2004’s 12.7 percent to April’s 35.4 percent. The nine-month decline, however, didn’t set a record for most consecutive monthly system declines or for the steepest one-month decline. The record for consecutive declines in system sales was set in 2002 and 2003, when sales fell for 14 consecutive months. During 12 of those 14 months, sales fell at double-digit rates ranging from 13.2 percent to a record 41.9 percent.

Factory-Level Audio Sales Through August 2005