Album sales up for first time since ’04

First six months post 1% gain; Beyonce's '4' debuts at No. 1

Album sales in the U.S. notched a gain for the first time since 2004, according to mid-year figures released Wednesday by Nielsen SoundScan.

According to SoundScan’s survey of the six months ended July 3, total album sales (physical and digital) climbed 1%, with 155.5 million units sold, vs. 153.9 million for the 2010 period.

Overall music sales — including CDs and digital tracks — were up 8.5% with 821 million units sold, vs. 756 million last year. Overall album sales, including so-called track-equivalent digital albums, climbed 3.6%.

Digital track sales, which were were nearly flat during 2010, rose 11% nearly flat during 2010, rose 11% through during the first six months of this year, totaling 660.8 million (vs. 597.4 million through the ’10 midpoint).

Digital album sales were up 19% to 50.3 million units and are on track to set a new record by year’s end. The same category totaled 42.2 million units during the first six months last year. Digital albums represented one-third of all album purchases during the past six months.

Even vinyl albums experienced a huge bump, skyrocketing 41% in the first six months of the year.

Thanks to puissant sales by English thrush Adele, Sony Music Entertainment led in market share, logging 30.4% of total album sales and 31.9% of current album sales. Universal Music Group, the market leader for years, came in second with 28.5% and 30% in those categories.

Warner Music Group and EMI Music were a distant third and fourth among the majors, tallying 19.5% and 9.05% in total album sales, respectively. The independents (“others” in SoundScan parlance) outstripped EMI, accounting for 12.57% of total albums.

On last week’s album chart, Beyonce’s “4” became the fourth consecutive album by the pop-R&B singer to bow at the top of the chart, logging the third-biggest debut of the year. Album moved 310,000 units according to SoundScan data for the week ended July 3.

Among this year’s debuts, album trails only Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Adele’s “21,” which stormed the top with first-week sales of 1.1 million units and 352,000 units, respectively. But it was a comparatively quiet bow for Beyonce: Her 2008 smash “I Am … Sasha Fierce” reached the pinnacle with a 482,000-unit debut week.

None of the week’s other top-10 debuts managed sales in six figures. Rapper Big Sean’s debut set “Finally Famous” entered at No. 3 with 87,000 shifted. Releasing label, Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. imprint, just forged a wide-ranging deal with Univeral Music Group (Variety, June 28).

“When the Sun Goes Down” (Hollywood), latest from Disney-bred singer-actress (and Justin Bieber main squeeze) Selena Gomez and her band the Scene, entered at No. 4, shifting 78,000. Third studio set by the group matches act’s personal best, reached with 2010’s “A Year Without Rain.”

Two “American Idol” champs also made the upper reaches: David Cook’s second collection “This Loud Morning” (RCA) arrived at No. 7, moving 46,000, while this year’s winner Scotty McCreery’s Walmart exclusive EP “American Idol Season 10 Highlights” squeaked in at No. 10 with 40,000 sold.

Despite all the incoming new titles, Adele’s “21” sneaked up one notch to No. 2 for the week, scanning 92,000 (off 10%). Album is the year’s bestseller to date, with nearly 2.52 million sold, including 992,000 digital albums. (Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” runner-up among the year’s leading titles with 1.54 million sold, slumped to No. 12 in its first week outside the top 10 since its boffo debut.)

Rest of the week’s chart-toppers included Jill Scott’s “The Light of the Sun” (No. 5, 55,000 sold, down 60%), Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party” (No. 6, 48,000, up 20%), Jackie Evancho’s “Dream With Me” (No. 8, 44,000, off 43%) and Bad Meets Evil’s “Hell: The Sequel” (No. 9, 42,000, down 33%).