Adele sets pace as U.S. music purchases rise 1.3% in 2011

Thanks in great measure to soulful young English singer Adele, album sales crept up 1.3% in the U.S. during 2011 to mark the biz’s first gain since 2004, according to year-end figures released Wednesday by Nielsen SoundScan.

Overall music sales (comprising albums, singles, musicvideo and digital tracks) rose almost 7% year-to-year, vs. a 2.4% decline in 2010. Industry shifted a total of 1.6 billion units.

Last year, album sales totaled 330.6 million units, vs. 326.2 million in 2010.

Adele’s unflagging megahit “21” — which returned to No. 1 in its 45th chart week at year’s end — lofted domestic numbers by shifting 5.82 million units since its March arrival.

The Columbia album — the first to move more than 5 million in a year since Usher’s “Confessions,” which sold 7.98 million in 2004 — was the driver for album sales, which had witnessed six previous years of steady decline. In 2010, total album sales spiraled down nearly 12.8%.

“Christmas,” Canadian crooner Michael Buble’s late-year gift to the industry, was the year’s No. 2 title, but “21” still more than doubled its 2.45 million-unit score.

The only other title to move more than 2 million copies was diva Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” which sold 2.1 million. Set debuted at No. 1 with a 1.1 million-unit tally after it was heavily discounted to 99ยข at Amazon.com in its opening week, and the blowout tag led to institution of a minimum price threshold of $3.49 for chart albums.

The year’s other top albums were rapper Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV” (1.9 million) and country singer Jason Aldean’s steady-selling 2010 collection “My Kinda Party” (almost 1.6 million).

Adele’s super-hot set was also a factor in booming digital album sales figures, which soared nearly 20% to 103.1 million units. The field was led by “21,” with 1.8 million copies downloaded.

Compact disc sales continued to erode, falling almost 6% during the last 12 months with 223.5 million sold.

Adele’s inescapable No. 1 single “Rolling in the Deep” was the year’s top digital song with 5.81 million copies sold. LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” (5.47 million) and Katy Perry’s “E.T.” (4.83 million) were the other digital bestsellers. The top two numbers were the first singles to track more than 5 million downloads in a year.

Following a virtually flat 2010, digital track sales climbed 8.5% last year to a record 1.27 billion units.

Vinyl continued its comeback, as 3.9 million LPs were sold last year (up 36.3%), outdoing the 2.8 million tally for 2010.

After a steep 15% drop last year, catalog albums witnessed a 9% gain to 151.2 million units in 2011, while current albums slipped 4.2% to 122.7 million units.

In terms of market share, perennial leader Universal Music Group staved off a strong challenge from Sony Music Entertainment. UMG captured 29.85% of total album market share, vs. 29.29% for SME, which rode Adele’s cresting popularity.

No. 3 label unit Warner Music Group took 19.13% of the album business, while No. 4 EMI Music took a slim 9.44% slice.

The domestic market share landscape will likely be much different at the end of 2012, since UMG’s pending acquisition of EMI’s label interests should be completed by then, creating a major label playing field of just three companies.

On this week’s chart, “21” gains one position and retakes the No. 1 post for a 14th non-consecutive week. Despite a 64% post-Christmas plunge, the Columbia collection still managed a 144,000-unit frame, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures for the week ending Dec. 31.

Brit singer’s 2008 debut “19” witnessed a chart upswing, just missing the top 10 with a 35,000-unit stanza, good for a six-position gain to No. 11 in spite of a 50% drop.

The last chart of 2011 reflects typical double-digit year-end declines for most titles, as sales cooled following the holidays. Several of the week’s top sellers benefited from iTunes discounting.

Trailing Adele in the top five by several lengths are Drake’s “Take Care” (No. 2, 72,000 sold, off 45%), Young Jeezy’s “TM 103: Hustlerz Ambition” (No. 3, 67,000, down 71%), Lady Antebellum’s “Own the Night” (No. 4, 54,000, off 51%) and LMFAO’s “Sorry For Party Rocking” (No. 5, 49,000, down 34%).

At the rear of the top 10 pack were Florence & the Machine’s “Ceremonials” (No. 6, 47,000, down 25%), the Black Keys’ “El Camino” (No. 7, 45,000, off 51%), Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” (No. 8, 44,000, down 48%), Rihanna’s “Talk That Talk” (No. 9, 42,000, off 58%) and the “Now 40″ hits package (No. 10, 41,000, down 53%).

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more