U.S. album sales dropped in 2009

Sunday, January 10, 2010; E03

LOS ANGELES -- U.S. album sales tumbled for the eighth time in nine years as the rate of growth in legal digital downloads slid in a turnaround from recent years, according to industry figures issued last week.

Total album sales fell 12.7 percent to 373.9 million units during the 52-week period ended Jan. 3, according to retail data collected by tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan. Late pop star Michael Jackson was the top-selling artist, and Taylor Swift had the No. 1 album, followed by Susan Boyle.

The decline in total sales follows a 14 percent drop in 2008, and it sets a new low since Nielsen SoundScan began publishing point-of-sales data in 1991. Sales have plummeted 52 percent from the industry's high-water mark of 785.1 million units in 2000, largely because of Internet piracy and competition from other forms of entertainment such as video games.

While recession-weary consumers spent more money on movies and live concerts in 2009 than they did the year before, they drew the line at music purchases. Liquidations of the Virgin Megastore and Circuit City retail chains did not help, nor did the reduction in display space at retail outlets such as Borders.

On the other hand, the death of Jackson in June provided a boost. The pop singer was the best-selling artist of the year, accounting for 8.3 million units. Neither he nor the next two artists, country star Swift and the Beatles, released new albums last year.

Swift was a distant second with 4.6 million units, mostly for her second album, "Fearless," the biggest seller of 2009 and the No. 3 seller of 2008; 3.3 million units of the Beatles' newly remastered catalogue sold.

Downloads through online retailers such as iTunes have taken on greater importance to the industry, but the impressive growth of recent years is waning. Digital track sales rose 8.3 percent to a record 1.16 billion in 2009, but that was proportionally far less than a 27 percent increase in 2008 and a 45 percent leap in 2007.

Digital album sales rose 16.1 percent to 76.4 million units, also a record, after jumps of 32 percent in 2008 and 53 percent in 2007.

After Swift, the No. 2 album of 2009 was Scottish singer Boyle's debut release, "I Dreamed a Dream," which sold 3.1 million copies after six chart-topping weeks in stores. Jackson's 2003 hits package, "Number Ones," was No. 3 with 2.4 million copies sold.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company