Album sales down 12.8% in 2010

Eminem's 'Recovery' is the year's top selling record

The torment continued for the U.S. record biz in 2010 as album sales plummeted 12.8% and digital track sales flattened to a meager 1% gain, according to year-end figures issued Wednesday by Nielsen SoundScan.

Album unit sales dropped to 326.2 million, from 373.9 million units in 2009. The 2010 drop outstripped ’09’s decline of 12.7%.

Overall album sales — encompassing physical releases and digital “track equivalent albums” — fell 9.5%, to 443.4 million units from 489.8 million in 2009. This tops ’09’s drop of 8.5%.

Hoped-for holiday blessings did not materialize: Seasonal sales from Nov. 8-Dec. 26 dropped 10.7% from the previous year, with 71.6 million albums sold (vs. 80.2 million during the 2009 span).

Some of last year’s overall sales drop might be attributable to what can be called the “Michael Jackson effect.” The 2009 retail boom of 8.28 million units in the wake of his death wasn’t sustained the following year, when he moved 2.1 million units. Jackson still placed eighth among the biggest-selling artists of 2010.

Rapper Eminem claimed the 2010 album sales championship, moving 3.4 million copies of “Recovery.” Country acts trailed only slightly among the top sellers: Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” placed second with 3 million, while Taylor Swift’s late-year release “Speak Now” came in a close third with 2.96 million.

Swift was the top-selling album artist of ’10, notching total sales of 4.47 million, followed by Eminem (4.32 million), Lady Antebellum (3.85 million), Justin Bieber (3.73 million) and the cast of the Fox series “Glee” (3.6 million). Swift has sold more than 4 million albums per year for the past three years.

Just four albums sold more than 2 million units last year; the No. 10 bestseller, Ke$ha’s “Animal,” barely inched past the 1 million mark, with 1.14 million sold.

Track sales crept up to 1.17 billion units last year from 1.16 billion the previous year. Last year, digital tracks showed an increase of 8.3% as sales topped 2008’s total of 1.07 billion units.

The year’s biggest digital song, Katy Perry’s summer ubiquity “California Gurls,” sold 4.4 million units; its tally was eclipsed by 2009’s biggest seller, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow,” which rang up nearly 4.8 million units.

As brick-and-mortar specialty retailers continued to wane, combo chains (such as Borders) faltered and big-box merchants drastically cut floor space for music, catalog sales — which typically buoy overall album sales — took a hit, declining 15.3% to 138.9 million units. Sales of current albums fell 11%.

Turntable owners helped an antique format set a record: Vinyl albums gained 14% and sold 2.8 million units, more than in any other year in SoundScan’s 20-year history. LPs accounted for 1% of all album sales.

Perhaps fittingly, the Beatles’ 1969 release “Abbey Road” was the top-selling LP, moving 35,000 platters. The Fab Four — No. 3 among the top-selling acts of 2009 — placed No. 10 in 2010, with a little iTunes love contributing to their tally of 1.7 million total units sold.

In terms of 2010 market share, Universal Music Group led the four majors with 31.4% of albums sold. Sony Music Entertainment ranked No. 2 with 27.4%, with Warner Music Group trailing behind with 19.8% and EMI Music a distant fourth with 9.6%. The independent sector outdid EMI with an 11.6% share.

On the first album chart of the new year, Swift’s “Speak Now” held at No. 1, as post-holiday numbers for all titles plunged in a year-end slowdown and major yuletide hits by Susan Boyle and Jackie Evancho vanished from the top 10.

Swift’s year-end Big Machine smash hung on at the apex with sales of 77,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures for the week ending Jan. 2. The title registered a plunge of 72%.

Despite huge declines, some long-running albums registered gains in position.

Eminem’s “Recovery” rose five slots to No. 2 (63,000 sold, down 54%). Trailing the rapper were Rihanna’s “Loud” (No. 3, 62,000, down 44%), Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday” (No. 4, 61,000, off 54%), Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (No. 5, 58,000, down 32%) and Daft Punk’s “Tron Legacy” soundtrack (No. 6, 54,000, down 22%).

A couple of Grammy contenders made big leaps: Bruno Mars’ “Doo Wops and Hooligans” reached No. 7 with 45,000 sold (off 46%), while English folk-rock quartet Mumford & Sons made their first top 10 appearance at No. 8, as “Sigh No More” shifted 39,000 (down 29%). Wrapping the top 10 were Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” (No. 9, 38,000, off 62%) and Keyshia Cole’s “Calling All Hearts” (No. 10, 37,000, down 71%).

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