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Overall music sales hit an all-time high in 2009; Taylor Swift's 'Fearless' is the year's top-selling album

January 6, 2010 |  3:28 pm


Overall U.S. music purchases hit an all-time-high in 2009, as sales of albums, singles, digital tracks and music videos topped 1.5 billion for the second consecutive year, according to year-end data released today from Nielsen SoundScan. Total music sales were up 2.1% over those of 2008, but the figures capture an industry still in transition.

Album sales took another double-digit drop in 2009, down 12.7% to 373.9 million. Meanwhile, digital track sales reached another milestone, up 8.3% from 2008 to more than 1.1 billion in 2009.

What's more, Nielsen SoundScan reports that 89 digital songs exceeded the 1 million sales mark in 2009, compared with 71 songs in 2008, and 2009 marked the first time a song broke the 4 million sales mark in a single year. The latter was achieved by four singles -- "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Got a Feeling" from the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" and Flo Rida's "Right Round."

More distressing for the industry, however, is the fact that the rate of growth has significantly slowed. 

Though overall music purchases set a record in 2009, the 2.1% increase is a fraction of the growth spurt the industry experienced in 2008. That year, overall music purchased jumped more than 10%, up from 1.3 billion to 1.5 billion, and digital track sales experienced a major 27% increase. Additionally, although digital album sales were up 16% in 2009 to 76.4 million, they shot up 32% in 2008.

Digital music accounted for 40% of all music purchases in 2009, up from 32% in 2008. Digital album sales, meanwhile, made up 20% of total album sales in 2009. In 2008, digital album sales accounted for 15% of total album sales. An approximate 5% growth rate is consistent going back to 2006.

Vinyl continued to be an industry bright spot, although overall vinyl sales are minuscule in the grand scheme of the industry. Sales of vinyl were up 33% in 2009 to 2.5 million, a new vinyl record. Though vinyl has seen a resurgence in recent years, there are signs that even that market is maturing. For instance, vinyl sales experienced a nearly 90% increase in 2008.

Retailers also took a hit in 2009. Sales at mass merchants accounted for 36% of all album sales, down 1% in 2008. This is, however, the third year in a row that sales fell at mass merchants. Nielsen SoundScan reported last year that mass retailers experienced year-to-year growth from 2002 to 2006. Elsewhere, chain outlets comprised 29% of all album sales, compared with 33% in 2008, and independent retailers amounted to 6% of overall album sales, down 1% from in 2008.

Customers also stuck with the familiar. The top-selling album of 2009, Taylor Swift's "Fearless," was one that was released in 2008. Of 2009's top five sellers, only Susan Boyle and Andrea Bocelli released their albums in 2009, and both benefited from holiday-timed release dates.

Though Swift's "Fearless" was 2009's top-seller, it didn't take that title by much. The album tallied 3.2 million sales, just 100,000 more than Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed A Dream." Boyle can boast that her "Dream" was the best-selling album that was released in 2009, and was the year's top-selling "Internet album." The latter denotes that it sold the most physical copies from digital retailers (405,000), as opposed to digital downloads.

Swift was 2008's top-selling artist, and she would have repeated this year were it not for the sudden death of Michael Jackson. The King of Pop racked up a total of 8.2 million album sales in 2009, significantly more than Swift's 4.6 million. But Swift was still on the rise. Last year, she sold slightly more than 4 million copies.

Jackson's "Number Ones" was the year's third-best album with 2.3 million sold. The year's other top-selling albums were as follows: Lady Gaga's "The Fame" (2.2  million), Bocelli's "My Christmas" (2.2 million), "Hannah Montana: The Movie" soundtrack (1.8 million), Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D." (1.78 million), Eminem's "Relapse" (1.73 million), Jay-Z's "The Blueprint 3" (1.5 million) and Kings of Leon's "Only By the Night" (1.39 million).

After Jackson and Swift, the Beatles were 2009's top-selling artist, moving more than 3.28 million total units and benefiting from the much-hyped re-release of its catalog. Rounding out the year's top-10 selling artists were Boyle (3.1 million), Lady Gaga (2.8 million), Bocelli (2.6 million), Michael Buble (2.28 million), Eminem (2.1 million), Carrie Underwood (1.8 million) and the Black Eyed Peas (1.88 million). 

Fashion conscious pop star Lady Gaga was the year's top-selling digital artist. She sold more than 15 million tracks in 2009. Last year, Rihanna won the honor, having sold more than 9.9 million tracks. Lady Gaga's "The Fame" was the top-selling digital album of the year, moving 461,000 downloads.

On the airplay front, Swift's "You Belong to Me" and "Love Story" were the two most-played songs of 2009, according to Nielsen BDS. "You Belong to Me" was also the most streamed song over the Internet, accruing more than 10 million listenings. But Kanye West may be pleased to know that Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" was the most-streamed video of the year (3.2 million), topping Swift's "Love Story" by 1 million.

-- Todd Martens


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Photo: Taylor Swift. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times