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A familiar music biz tune: Album sales down, digital tracks up

Todd Martens
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — New albums from superstar artists Justin Bieber, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Nicki Minaj haven’t helped the music business get back in tune with consumers’ wallets, at least when it comes to album sales. Mid-year Nielsen SoundScan results released Thursday show that album sales thus far in 2012 trail those of the same period last year by 3 percent. What’s more, the top-selling album of 2012 is Adele’s “21,” an effort that was released way back in January 2011.

Sales of individual songs, however, remains a bright spot. Digital tracks are up 6 percent thus far this year compared with the same period in 2011. The top-selling track of the year is Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” featuring Kimbra, according to industry trade Billboard, which compiles the U.S. charts and unveiled some of SoundScan’s mid-year data on Wednesday.

The dip in album sales this year is a return to business as usual for the music industry. Last year was the first time album sales registered an increase since 2004, and it was a small one at just 1 percent. Sales of digital songs, meanwhile, ended 2011 up more than 8 percent, a trend that has continued into this year. Overall, 150.46 million albums have been sold in 2012 thus far; at this point last year, consumers had purchased 155.46 million albums.

Adele’s “21” has sold 3.69 million copies this year, buoyed by her success at the Grammy Awards and return to the performing stage after undergoing vocal surgery last year. All told, “21” has sold more than 9.4 million copies since its 2011 release, and finished 2011 as the year’s bestseller with a final tally of more than 5.8 million. It’s quite possible, reports Billboard, that “21” will be the top-selling album two years in row, which would be the first time an album has accomplished that feat since SoundScan began compiling data in 1991.

Adele’s “21” is the only album in 2012 to have broken the million-sales barrier. Significantly behind Adele is Lionel Richie’s country makeover “Tuskegee,” which has sold 912,000 copies. In the No. 3 spot is British boy-band sensation One Direction, whose debut, “Up All Night,” has sold 899,000.

While the second half of the year typically brings a flurry of A-list releases, the early forecast for a rebound in album sales is cloudy at best. So far, 11 albums in 2012 have sold at least 500,000 copies. That’s down heavily from this point last year, when 16 different albums had sold at least a half a million copies.

The pace has also slowed for digital tracks, albeit less dramatically. Thus far in 2012, 47 songs have sold at least a million downloads. Last year at this point, 52 had crossed the seven-figure mark.

Still, Gotye’s runaway hit, which was released in late 2011, has become the first digital track to sell more than 5 million downloads in the first six months of a calendar year. “Somebody That I Used to Know” has sold 5.5 million thus far this year.

The runner-up song is “We Are Young” from the capitalization-averse group, fun. The title has sold 5.09 million downloads. In third place is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” which has sold more than 4 million downloads.

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