Disc sales dip again as downloads thrive

Album sales declined for the sixth consecutive year in 2005, dipping 7.2% to 618.9 million units from the 666.7 million sold in 2004, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

But a boom in digital sales has rejuvenated the market for singles, which had been given up for dead at the end of the 20th century. In 2005, 352.7 million digital tracks were sold, up 150% from the 140.9 million sold in ’04, the first full year in which digital sales were tracked.

When added together, more than 1 billion music purchases were made in the year — a plateau that had never been topped. Of that total, 61% was from CDs, LPs and digital albums; in 2002, they represented 94% of the total.

Once again, Universal Music & Video Distribution held the top slot in market share across the board. Among current albums, UMVD held 34.8%, up 2.6% from 2004; in total albums, UMVD was at 31.7%, up 2.1%; and in digital, Universal’s music repped 33.3% of all sales, a 2.5% spike.

Warner Music’s distrib arm was the only other major to post gains across the board. Although up less than 1% in current and total albums, 13.8% and 15%, respectively, WEA was up 2.1% in digital, hitting 18.3%.

Sony BMG took the biggest hits, dropping 4% in current to 25.6%, 3% in total albums to 25.6% and 3.6% in digital (26.6%). EMI saw dips of less than 1% in each category, landing at 9.6% in total, 8.3% in current and 7.8% in digital.

The year’s biggest seller was Mariah Carey’s “The Emancipation of Mimi” (Island) with 4.97 million sold. Disc topped 50 Cent’s “Massacre” (Interscope) by 116,000. Both albums were released by Universal, which had six titles in the year’s top 10.

The year lacked a true blockbuster, which contributed to the 9% slide in sales of current albums to 389 million from 428 million in 2004.

Most telling in the data compiled by Nielsen SoundScan between Jan. 3, 2005, and Jan. 1, 2006, was the changing way in which music is consumed.

CDs sold over the Internet hit 24.7 million, up 11.3% from 2004. Digital album sales reached 16.2 million, a 194% jump from 2004.

Mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy accounted for 40% of all albums purchased, up from 38% in ’04, 35% in 2003 and 34% in 2002. Chain musicstores slipped 3% to 45% of all album sales; indies, which took a 2% hit, now account for just 7% of all album sales. Nontraditional music outlets — coffeehouses, grocery stores, etc. — accounted for 9%, a 4% jump.

While no song topped 1 million downloads — Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” was No. 1 for the year at 962,000 — there were six tracks that sold more than 1 million ringtones. List, comprising five hip-hop tunes and the theme from the “Super Mario Bros.” vidgame, was headed by 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” at 1.9 million sold.

All genres were down in 2005 except Latin music, which rose 12.6%. Classical music was down 15%, the most of any genre, to 15.9 million albums sold.

The year ended on high notes as the weeks ending Christmas Day and New Year’s Day were up 2% and 5%, respectively, from the same weeks in 2004.

Jamie Foxx’s “Unpredictable” (J Records) moved up a space to No. 1 last week on sales of 200,000 copies, pushing down Mary J. Blige’s “Breakthrough” (Geffen) to No. 2 on sales of 193,000.

Week’s biggest debut was the Ying Yang Twins’ “U.S.A. Still United” (TVT), which opened at No. 45 on sales of 35,000. Every album in the top 200 saw its sales drop from the week before.

Still, 11 different digital tracks sold more than 100,000 each, and D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” posted the record for most digital sales in a week at 175,000.

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