Album sales eke out first gain in seven years, says Nielsen


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Paying for music, which seemed so passe in the file-sharing era, may be making a comeback.

Music sales for the first half of this year rose 8.5% over the same period last year, according to a report by Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks unit sales. Album sales, in particular, eked out a 1% gain, the first increase in seven years. Here’s a rough breakdown of the categories:

  • Digital Track Sales +11%
  • Digital Album Sales +19%
  • Vinyl Albums +41%
  • All albums (including digital and physical) +1%

Sales were fueled by Adele’s ‘21’ album, Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way,’ and Mumford & Sons’ ‘Sigh No More.’


It’s unclear if the increase in unit sales translated to a bump in dollar sales, which SoundScan does not track. Lady Gaga, for example, has sold 1.5 million copies of ‘Born This Way,’ but some of those were purchased for 99 cents from an promotion. The album normally sells for $7.99 for a digital download or $15.99 for a physical CD.

Still, the uptick in album sales, the first since 2004, is seen as progress for an industry that’s struggling to find ways to get consumers to pay for music rather than download free, pirated copies from file-sharing services.

David Bakula, Nielsen’s music analyst, said the increase in music sales likely came from multiple sources. Labels, for example, were more aggressive in pricing, packaging and promoting catalog albums via collections of oldies but goodies, contributing to a 7% increase in catalog albums sales.

Meanwhile, sales of digital tracks clocked a surprisingly strong 11% gain. Digital tracks posted an anemic 1.1% increase for all of 2010, leading some industry analysts to wonder if the category has run out of steam after a decade of double-digit gains.

‘Digital overall has been much stronger than last year,’ Bakula said. ‘I don’t think it’s quite run out of steam yet.’

For a more detailed analysis of the albums and genres that did well, check out the story on our sister blog, Pop & Hiss.


-- Alex Pham