SoundScan reports biggest sales week ever for digital downloads

A rare trifecta of rookies posted a winning ticket for U.S. album sales in the week ending Christmas Day.

New discs from Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx and the late Notorious B.I.G. helped lead an overall sales uptick from the previous year — a mere 2% — after CD sales were consistently 10% below 2004 numbers during the holiday sales period.

On the singles side, Nielsen SoundScan reported the biggest sales week ever for digital downloads: 9.6 million.

After years of dismissing Christmas week as one to avoid for new releases, the industry may well change its thinking after seeing these results. The real test, though, will be whether the releases have legs to carry them beyond Valentine’s Day.

Blige’s “The Breakthrough” (Geffen) sold 727,000 copies in its opening sesh, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Hers is the top sales week of the year for a female artist and the fourth best opening in 2005.

Foxx, who debuted on the album chart 11 years ago, sees his first album recorded since he became an established actor, “Unpredictable” (J), sell 598,000 copies.

The second album of Notorious B.I.G. material released since his 1997 death, “Duets: The Final Chapter” (Bad Boy), opened at No. 3 on sales of 438,000 copies. The last two albums from Biggie Smalls opened at No. 1; “Life After Death,” which was released less than three weeks after Smalls (aka Christopher Wallace) was murdered, sold 689,000 in its first week.

Last week’s No. 1, Eminem’s “Curtain Call: The Hits” (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope), fell to No. 4 despite a spike of 33% to 430,000.

Carrie Underwood’s “Some Hearts” nearly doubled its previous week’s sales, moving 401,000 copies of her RCA debut.

During Christmas week 2004, no albums debuted in the top 50 and only one sold more than 400,000 copies.

In 2003, there were none at that level. Having five albums selling more than 400,000 in one week may be a SoundScan record.

CD sales hit 33 million units last week, up 34% from the previous week’s 19 million and 2% above 2004. Sales for the year of albums, both downloads and CDs, are now at 602 million units — 7% behind ’04.

Week’s No. 6 album was Mariah Carey’s “The Emancipation of Mimi” (Island), which sold 290,000 units, pretty much insuring her place as the year’s top seller over 50 Cent’s “The Massacre.” The two discs should end the year right around 5 million sold.

Next week’s tally will be largely driven by buyers redeeming gift certificates and spending gift cash. With Hanukah and Christmas coinciding on the calendar, many retailers are expecting another week of strong results before hitting the annual January slump.

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