Album sales hit nine-year low in 2005

U.S. music album sales last year slid to their lowest level since 1996, squelching any hopes that the recording industry’s long downward spiral may have bottomed out.

Tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan, which measures point-of-sale purchases across the United States, said Wednesday that total album sales–including current and catalog titles–fell 7.2 percent from 2004 to 618.9 million units, the lowest since 1996, when they were 616.6 million.

After enjoying an “up” year in 2004, prompting predictions that the worst was over, sales flagged during 2005, hurt by competition from illegal downloads, rival forms of entertainment such as video games, and a lack of breakout musical acts.

Indeed the top album was from veteran pop singer Mariah Carey, who sold almost 5 million units of her comeback release, “The Emancipation of Mimi.” By contrast, the top album of 2004, R&B singer Usher’s “Confessions,” sold almost 8 million copies that year. The industry counts CDs, cassettes, vinyl records and digital releases as “albums.”

Nielsen SoundScan said overall music sales, which include albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks, jumped 22.7 percent to just over a billion units in 2005. The rise was fueled by a 194 percent increase in digital downloads.

Industry leader Universal Music Group was the top distributor with 31.7 percent of album sales, up from 29.6 percent in 2004. The unit of France’s Vivendi Universal released both Carey’s album and the year’s second-ranked album, rapper 50 Cent’s “The Massacre,” which sold 4.9 million units.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a nascent joint venture between Sony and Bertelsmann, was second with 25.61 percent, down from 28.4 percent in 2004. Its top album was inaugural “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway,” which ranked No. 3 for the year with sales of 3.5 million copies.

Third was Warner Music Group, with 15 percent of the market, up slightly from 2004 when it had about a 14.7 percent share. Album sales were led by punk trio Green Day, which sold 3.4 million copies of “American Idiot,” the year’s No. 4 release.

EMI Group was last among the “big four” major labels with 9.5 percent, down from 9.9 percent in 2004. Its top act was British band Coldplay, which ranked No. 6 on the albums list with sales of 2.6 million copies for “X&Y.”

News source: Cnet


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