Digital music sales trump CDs, vinyl in 2011

Nathan Pensky · January 6, 2012 · Short URL:

Units of digital music sold beat out sales of physical copies by a slim margin

Finally, the music industry has entered the digital age as more people are downloading and streaming music vs. buying CDs and vinyl records (remember those?).

The sales of digital music surpassed copies of CDs and vinyl in 2011, according to a report by Nielsen SoundScan.

However, the margin of victory was almost non-existent, as digital sales came in at only 50.3% of the total. This breakdown of digital vs. physical copies sold relfects units, not amounts in revenue.

Also, while sales of digital copies is only just now reflecting that a majority of people are accessing music digitally, as we all know, people have been known to get at their music through digital means in many ways other than legal downloads, including through file-sharing sites and content streaming sites like Spotify.

Another thing to take into consideration, 2011 saw the break-out success of Adele, whose album 21 sold 5.3 million copies, the largest number of albums sold in one year since 2004. Adele's stellar showing in 2011 helped overall sales, pushing sales of complete albums to a 1.3% increase over those of 2010, which in turn fed into digital units sold.

Other honors for Adele, as quantified in SoundScan's data, were Best Selling Digital Album of All Time (21) at 1.8 million copies sold, Best Selling Digital Song ("Rolling In The Deep") at 5.8 million copies sold, and Most Played Song on the Radio ("Rolling In The Deep") at 658,000 detections.

But even taking all disclaimers into account -- the slim margins, the statistics that perhaps don't represent real digital behaviors, a stand-out album that boosted the industry -- other findings by SoundScan show a market that is finally shifting to reflect the advent of digital media.

Digital track sales hit a record-high 1.27 billion last year, which is 100 million downloads (8.4%) more than 2010. Digital album sales also broke records at 103.1 million sales, up from 86.3 million in 2010. This is an increase of nearly 20%. All digital album genres, except for Soundtracks had a positive year in 2011. The Rap and Electronic genre had the most marked growth, at a whopping 42% increase of sales.

2011 also notably saw e-books overtake sales of physical books as well, at least those sold by Amazon. 

[Image Credit: The Telegraph]

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