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Album sales plunge, but digital downloads up




NASHVILLE, Tennessee

Music sales have continued to slump in 2008 as the increased number of downloads of digital tracks failed to make up for a plunge in the sale of compact discs.

Year-end sales figures released last week by The Nielsen Co. show total album sales, including album equivalents made up of single digital tracks, fell to 428.4 million units, down 8.5 percent from 500.5 million in 2007.

Physical album sales fell 20 percent to 362.6 million from 450.5 million, while digital album sales rose 32 percent to a record 65.8 million units.

Digital track sales, such as those conducted in Apple Inc.’s iTunes Music Store, were up 27 percent from last year, breaking the 1 billion mark for the first time at 1.07 billion.

The report continues a troubling trend for the recording industry, which has a harder time maintaining profits when consumers buy single songs instead of albums. The number of transactions rose 10.5 percent to 1.5 billion, although the figure treats single track and whole album purchases the same.

“You can see the overall unit sales as a positive, but their model is really built on album sales and that just continues to decline,” said Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts for Billboard magazine.

“Music consumption has never been at a higher clip, it’s just a matter of trying to turn it into revenue,” he added.

Some record labels are making progress. Craig Kallman, chief executive of Warner Music Group Corp.’s Atlantic Records, whose artists include Kid Rock and T.I., said his label passed a milestone in the year to September by having its digital revenue exceed that from physical CD sales.

The label, the top-selling in the U.S. in 2008, has had to become more careful in choosing which artists to promote and more patient in waiting for their songs to break out, he said.

“You have to really be right about your hits. If you’re going to invest that amount of time in them and not run as many records, you have to be way more right today than wrong,” Kallman said.

Nielsen SoundScan said album sales fell in every genre. Classical music saw the biggest drop at 26 percent, followed by country at 24 percent and Latin at 21.1 percent.

Taylor Swift was the year’s bestselling artist with more than 4 million albums sold, followed by AC/ DC, Lil Wayne and Coldplay. Sugarland finished No. 8.

Swift had two albums on Nielsen’s Top 10 sales list: her selftitled debut at No. 6 and her sophomore album “Fearless” at No. 3.

Lil Wayne had the year’s topselling album, “Tha Carter III,” with 2.87 million units sold, with Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” (2.14 million) and Swift’s “Fearless” (2.11 million) rounding out the top three.

The top selling digital artist was Rihanna with 9.94 million tracks sold.

Ironically, as digital downloads grew, vinyl album sales also climbed. In 2008, more vinyl albums were purchased (1.88 million) than any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.

More than two of every three vinyl albums were purchased at an independent music store during the year, the company reported. The top selling vinyl albums were Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” (26,000 units), the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” (16,500) and Guns ‘N Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” (13,600).


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