Top 40 sales take a tumble

On the heels of a disastrous first quarter, music retail continues to lay an egg.

In a 32% slide from the same week a year earlier, the CD business saw 37 of the 38 holdovers in the top 40 post double-digit drops last week.

The only album to keep the dip to single digits (7%), Jennifer Lopez’s “Como Ama una Mujer” (Epic), benefited from Lopez’s appearance on “American Idol” the week before.

Only two albums in the top 60 posted gains, and both of those discs had help from outside the traditional industry. Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” (Columbia) posted a 15% gain after her song was featured in a clip show for ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and Brazilian singer Ceu’s self-titled debut leaped 50% the week that the disc started to appear in Starbucks.

Their sales figures weren’t blockbuster: “Mujer” sold 24,000 copies — good enough to lift Lopez to No. 24 from 45; “The Story” sold 17,000, up 35 slots to No. 41; and “Ceu” sold 12,000, up 89 slots to No. 57.

The week’s bestseller was “Now! That’s What I Call Music Vol. 24,” which held on to the No. 1 slot for a second week. It sold 89,000 copies, a 58% drop from the previous week, according to Nielsen Soundscan. “Now! 24″ has cumed 533,000; the 23rd volume of “Now!” sold 820,000 in its first three weeks of release.

Tim McGraw’s “Let It Go” (Curb) held its ground at No. 2 despite a 63% slide, selling 66,000. The No. 3 album, Akon’s “Konvicted,” sold 60,000 copies, down 20% despite an appearance on “American Idol.”

The bright spot is that the TV appearances of Carlile and Lopez did drive downloads of songs. “Que Hiciste,” the song Lopez sang on last week’s “Idol,” was downloaded 9,700 times, up from 3,800 the week before. Carlile’s “The Story,” a featured track at Apple’s iTunes store, was downloaded 19,000 times in the week ended Sunday vs. 3,000 the week before. Both songs have been available for nearly two months.

This could be the week that “Idol” switched from driving album sales that net retailers $1-$7 per disc sold to driving individual digital downloads, which earn an Internet provider such as Apple’s iTunes or Walmart.com 19¢-30¢.

Last year, the week ended April 16 was a monster sales sesh with four albums topping 250,000 and another three landing between 115,000 and 136,000, proving how important “High School Musical” was in bolstering the overall business last year. “Idol”-related discs from Daniel Powter, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson also helped to prop up sales.

A year ago, “Some Hearts” was No. 13 on sales of 73,000; last week, it rose to No. 14 on sales of 36,000.

The top 10 in 2006 for the middle week of April saw 1.854 million units sold, up from 1.123 million in ’05. This year, the tally is 573,000.

There isn’t a single genre with reason to smile. Country was dominating the charts at this time last year, but that trend has not continued; despite Akon’s sales of 2.13 million within the past seven months, there’s no resurgence in rap; and none of this year’s Brit imports have come close to approaching James Blunt’s numbers.

What’s more, the year has not found an out-of-left-field success such as “High School Musical.”

A year ago, the top 10’s new entries were Toby Keith’s “White Trash With Money” (330,000 sold), LL Cool J’s “Todd Smith” (116,000 sold) and Powter’s disc (89,000).

This week’s top debut came from Bright Eyes’ “Cassadaga” (Saddle Creek), which sold 58,000 copies to take fourth place. In terms of sales and chart position, it is the best week ever for the Omaha, Neb., band led by Conor Oberst. Bright Eyes starts a 32-city tour on Sunday in Milwaukee that includes a seven-night run at Gotham’s Town Hall.

HellYeah, a metal band with members of Pantera, Mudvayne and Nothingface, opened at No. 9. Their self-titled debut, released by Epic, sold 45,000 copies in the opening stanza. The only other top 50 debut came from Chayanne, whose “Mi Tiempo” (Sony Intl.) opened at No. 42, selling 17,000.

Hope for the business arrives next week with Avril Lavigne’s “The Best Damn Thing,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Year Zero” and Bucky Covington’s debut on Hollywood. But Lavigne will be fortunate to do 65%-75% of the 380,000 first-week sales she posted three years ago with “Under My Skin.” NIN is likely to take the No. 2 slot, and while Covington should easily land in the top 10, he is looking more like Kellie Pickler than Underwood in terms of sales.

While there are several acts with sales potential releasing albums within the next few weeks, it isn’t until May 15 that there are two releases from acts capable of posting superstar numbers: Gretchen Wilson and Linkin Park. Prior to that, April 24 sees the arrival of new works from Arctic Monkeys and Joe; Michael Buble and Ne-Yo hit bins on May 1; and Mike Jones and Travis return to retail on May 8.

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