Album sales continue to slide in ’08

Music industry down 14% from last year

A depressed holiday season pushed the recorded music industry deeper into its continued slump as sales of albums — CDs and downloads combined — hit only 428.4 million, a 14% drop from 2007.

It’s even more staggering when compared with 2005 numbers, when 618.9 million units were sold.

The music business did find consumers were interested in three things during 2008: digital downloads, concert tickets and vinyl LPs.The holiday season — Nov. 17 through Dec. 28 — is counted upon to deliver nearly a quarter of the year’s business and it was down 19% from 2007 (80.1 million album sales vs. 98.7 million a year ago).

Data released Wednesday by Nielsen Soundscan further drove home the notion that the marketplace has shifted to digital tracks, sales of which were up 27%, hitting 1.07 billion. Downloads now account for 32% of all music purchases.

The concert industry, meanwhile, saw a 7.8% bump from 2007 to $4.2 billion in box office revenue, according to Pollstar, the trade publication that tracks live entertainment data.

The growth in revenue, however, owed to higher ticket prices rather than an increase in tickets purchased. The average ticket price for one of the 100 top-grossing shows cost $66.90, up or 8% from 2007. The number of tickets sold for the 100 top-grossing shows fell 3%, to 35.6 million.

Madonna had the top-selling tour of the year, grossing $105.3 million. Celine Dion was next ($94 million), followed by the Eagles ($73.4 million), Kenny Chesney ($72.2 million) and Bon Jovi ($70.4 million).

With the exception of Madonna, Neil Diamond and Tina Turner, the Pollstar top 10 featured acts that began tours in 2007 or early 2008 and had multiple legs count toward their tally.

A performer such as Taylor Swift, whose 4 million album sales overall made her the top album seller of the year, does not make the touring list as she spent the year opening shows for Rascal Flatts.

AC/DC may be the one act capable of winning on both counts. The band, whose catalog is not available on iTunes and whose “Black Ice” album was only sold at Wal-Mart, started its tour in October and did enough business to secure No. 17 on the Pollstar list of touring acts. “Black Ice” album sold 1.9 million copies to secure No. 5 for the year on the Nielsen Soundscan chart. When the new album and catalog sales are combined, the band moved 3.4 million albums, making them the second biggest selling act of the year.

The year’s biggest selling album was Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter III,” which sold 2.87 million copies to make the lowest selling year-end chart-topper in the 17 years Soundscan has tracked album sales.

Rihanna sold the most digital tracks — 9.9. million — while Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” was the No. 1 digital track with 3.36 million sold. Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” was the year’s top selling digital album, having registered 617,000 downloads.

Universal Music Group remains the industry leader with an overall marketshare of 31.52%. It rises to 34.75% among current albums and goes to 27.8% in digital album sales.

Sony BMG is second, Warner Music Group third and EMI a distant fourth in each chart with the exception of digital album sales in which WMG does 2 percentage points better than Sony.

The rise in vinyl sales, which has been anecdotally chronicled, was considerable as the format nearly doubled in sales in ‘08 to 1.88 million sold, up from just under a million in 2007.

And it’s in the vinyl category in which familiar names abound. Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” was No. 1 with 26,000 units sold followed by the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” and the B-52’s “Funplex.”

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