Overall music purchases up

Physical sales continue to drop, but digital soars

The music biz may be undergoing drastic shifts, but music still sells. Though sales of physical albums continued to wither in 2009, the number of overall music purchases rose 2.1% last year, according to year-end figures from Nielsen SoundScan.

Between Jan. 5, 2009, and Jan. 3, 2010, total album sales (encompassing CDs, cassettes, LPs and digital albums) plummeted 12.7%, with almost 374 million units sold (down from 428.4 million in 2008). Overall album sales (including all albums and “track equivalent” digital albums) fell 8.5%, with nearly 490 million units sold vs. 535.4 million the previous year. Internet sales of physical albums plunged 8% during the same period.

Nonetheless, the digital realm, which accounted for 40% of total U.S. music purchases, experienced a continuing upswing: Digital album sales gained 16.1%, while digital track sales climbed 8.3%. A staggering 1.1 billion digital tracks were sold last year.

Though its sales levels were humble, the old-fashioned vinyl LP witnessed the biggest percentage sales gain last year, climbing 33% with 2.5 million sold. Two out of three vinyl albums sold were purchased at independent retailers.

Other ’09 bestsellers were the late Michael Jackson’s “Number Ones” (2.3 million), Lady Gaga’s “The Fame” (2.2 million), Andrea Bocelli’s “My Christmas” (2.2 million), the soundtrack for “Hannah Montana: The Movie” (1.8 million), the Black Eyed Peas’ “The E.N.D.” (1.7 million), Eminem’s “Relapse” (1.7 million), Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint 3” (1.5 million) and Kings of Leon’s “Only by the Night” (1.3 million).

Jackson — whose sudden death in June led to a retail rush by mourning fans — was the year’s bestselling artist, with sales topping 8.2 million units. Swift ranked second, with 4.6 million albums sold. The Beatles, whose cherished catalog was re-released in September, were No. 3, shifting 3.3 million albums. Boyle (3.1 million) and Gaga (2.8 million) rounded out the top five.

Universal Music Group led the big four companies, with 30.2% of the total market for the period from Dec. 29, 2008, to Jan. 3, 2010. Sony Music Entertainment placed second with 28.5%, followed by Warner Music Group (20.5%) and EMI Music (9.2%). Independents accounted for 11.4% of the business.

UMG also led in current album market share, selling a potent 33.9% of new releases, and digital album share, with 26.9%. Thanks to Jackson’s remarkable posthumous sales, Sony was the catalog album leader, accounting for 30.1%.

Wrapping up the last 10 years, SoundScan anointed Eminem as the bestselling artist of the ’00s, with 32.2 million units sold. The rap star was succeeded by the Beatles, whose 30.2 million units included 11.6 million copies of the 2000 compilation “1,” the bestselling album of the last 10 years. Country vocalists Tim McGraw (24.8 million) and Toby Keith (24.5 million) and pop tart Britney Spears (22.9 million) followed.

Trailing the Fab Four’s hits package as the bestselling albums of the Aughts were N’ Sync’s “No Strings Attached” (11.1 million), Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” (10.6 million) and Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” (10.2 million) and “The Eminem Show” (9.8 million).

On this week’s U.S. album chart, Boyle’s “I Dreamed a Dream” begins 2010 as it ended 2009: at the summit.

Boyle’s Syco/Columbia debut moved 137,000 units in a typically sluggish post-Christmas stanza, according to SoundScan figures for the week ended Sunday. Title, whose sales slowed 73%, was still the only album to sell more than 100,000 for the week.

Multiple Grammy nominee Gaga is sitting pretty with two Interscope titles in the top 10. Dance-pop phenom’s “The Fame” climbs four positions to No. 2 with 82,000 sold (down 51%). Her mini-LP “The Fame Monster” rose three slots to No. 9 behind a 44,000-unit week (declining 62%).

Despite a 71% slide, Alicia Keys’ “The Element of Freedom” (J Records) moved up a notch to No. 3, tallying 80,000 units. In its second frame, Mary J. Blige’s “Stronger With Each Tear” (Geffen) slipped two slots to No. 4, with sales of 62,000 (down 81%). Swift’s “Fearless” (Big Machine) hung on at No. 5, collecting sales of 60,000 (off 73%). Justin Bieber’s “My World” (Island) inched up one position to No. 6, corralling sales of 51,000.

Only new arrival in the top 10 was the soundtrack for “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” (Rhino), making a 13-position bounce to No. 7 after pic’s arrival in theaters. Title dropped 43%, but sales of 51,000 were still good enough to supply lift. The late Ross Bagdasarian’s durable rodent threesome first appeared on the charts in 1959.

The Black Eyed Peas’ tireless “The E.N.D.” (Interscope) climbed seven rungs and re-entered the top 10 at No. 8, piling up another 47,000 units (down 55%). Owl City’s “Ocean Eyes” (Universal Republic) bounced up four positions to No. 10 despite a 59% downswing, scanning 44,000.

On the strength of her hot single “Tik Tok,” club-rocking Ke$ha should be the top contender for a big chart entry for her new album “Animal” next week.

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