U.S. album sales up for first time in seven years

The music industry got a bit of good news after years of facing declining sales figures with a year-end report showing that album sales had risen in the U.S. for the first time since 2004.

The music industry got a bit of good news after years of facing declining sales figures with a year-end report showing that album sales had risen in the U.S. for the first time since 2004.

The report, compiled by Nielsen SoundScan, shows a 3% gain in album sales last year and an overall 6.9% increase in music sales in general (including individual tracks), demonstrating that an increase in digital sales has finally begun to counteract the industry's steep, annual decline in physical sales.

Among the nearly 458 million albums sold in the U.S. last year, the pack was led by British singer Adele, who nearly double the sales total of her nearest competitor, Michael Buble, moving almost 6 million copies of her sophomore effort, "21," along with close to a million copies of her 2008 debut album, "19."

Buble's October release "Christmas" came in as a late contender, racking up sales of nearly 2.5 million units, followed by Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," which tallied another 2 million in sales. The top five list was rounded out by Lil Wayne and Jason Aldean.

Digital album sales rose yet again in 2011, jumping 20% from the previous year to 103 million, while physical album sales took another tumble, declining 5% from the previous year, which represented a far smaller percentage loss than the previous year, when physical album sales dropped nearly 20% from 2009.

Not only did digital purchases reach a new high in 2011, with 1.27 billion tracks sold in the U.S. (an increase of 100 million over 2010's figures), digital sales eclipsed physical sales for the first time ever, a trend that now seems irreversible, accounting for 50.3% of all purchases.

Physical album sales grew at a greater rate in 2011 in large cities, however. In Los Angeles, home of most of the music industry, digital album sales rose 6.3% versus an 11% growth in physical sales, while New York City saw a 13.7% jump in physical sales against an 8.6% growth in digital purchases. Similar proportions were reported in all of Nielsen's top ten markets for album sales, suggesting, possibly unsurprisingly, that much of the digital boom is fueled by consumers who live far from conventional record stores.

Among Nielsen's tallies by musical genres, jazz albums made the biggest leap in 2011, moving 11 million albums, an increase of 26% over the previous year. New Age and electronic albums also showed a marked gain, while sales of R&B and Latin albums both declined about 4% last year. All genres save Soundtrack albums saw a rise in digital sales in 2011, however.

 

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