U.K. music stores spawn rival charts

New rules force retailers to generate their own top 40

New chart rules in the U.K., including the sale of download-only tracks, are forcing retailers to compile their own lists of the country’s most popular songs.

From Jan. 1, the Official U.K. Charts Co. started allowing sales of downloads, including golden oldies and album tracks, to compete in its Official Singles Chart.

However, one of the U.K.’s biggest music retailers, HMV, has now removed those charts in-store, as it faces the dilemma of gaps in its top 40 singles displays when there is no physical product to correspond to the chart entry.

LONDON — Previously downloads were eligible only if physical product — a CD — also was released.

HMV said it will compile its own physical singles sales chart, and other retailers are expected to follow the company’s lead.

But for the music industry as a whole, the eligibility of downloads seems to makes sense, as download sales have effectively helped double the size of the singles market from 32.3 million units in 2004 to more than 65 million units last year.

In fact, during 2006, download single sales in the U.K. accounted for more than 51 million tracks, compared with only about 14 million physical unit sales.

The new rules are expected to herald a return of the EP (Extended Play), as chart eligibility now is extended for CD releases of up to four tracks lasting a total of 25 minutes, vs. the previous limit of three tracks and 20 minutes.

But the biggest change to the rules is the inclusion of album tracks and oldies, if they are available as downloads.

Official U.K. Charts Co. director Steve Redmond said, “This new ruling changes the nature of a single and puts the consumer in the driving seat. Literally any track can be a hit — as long as it sells enough.”