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Music buyers prefer CDs, but overall sales down

Music buyers kept a tighter hold of their purse strings in the first half of 2001, but for those who did hit the stores, full-length CDs accounted for even more purchases than they did last year, according to data released Monday by the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

Unit shipments of music in all formats tumbled nearly 10% in the first six months of the year compared with the same period a year ago, while their dollar value slipped by 4.4% to $5.9 billion, the RIAA said.

Accounting for part of that discrepancy was the relative strength of the industry’s second highest-ticket item (behind DVDs), the CD album. CD unit shipments slipped by 5% — half the overall figure — and the format’s share of the market on a unit basis rose to 90% from 86% year-over-year.

Continuing a long-running trend, cassette shipments continued their free fall, sliding 43% in the first half. Singles of all formats also took a dive, moving 38% fewer units in the latest interval.

RIAA topper Hilary Rosen voiced the trade group’s ongoing concerns about music downloaded over the Web and burned onto blank recordable CDs. She noted that an RIAA study found that half of respondents had culled music from the Net in the past month, and 70% of downloaders burned their tunes on a CD-R.

The RIAA’s long-running war with Napster, the king of music-download services, resulted in an injunction against the service and a subsequent slump in Napster usage early this year, but other services, including Kazaa and AudioGalaxy, have sprung up in its wake.

The industry is readying two subscription-based services of its own for release in early September, intended to provide a legal alternative to free-music swapping. MusicNet is backed by AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI and Zomba, while Pressplay has the support of Vivendi Universal and Sony.

Meanwhile, Rosen said the trade org was “confident that our year-end numbers will be strong,” bolstered by major second-half releases from Mary J. Blige, Andrea Bocelli, Brandy, Macy Gray and Enrique Iglesias, among others.

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