According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), total shipments during the first half of 2003 fell 15.8% from the same period last year to 398.5 million units.

The decline in U.S. music shipments is accelerating, Billboard Bulletin reports. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), total shipments during the first half of 2003 fell 15.8% from the same period last year to 398.5 million units. The value of shipments was down 12% to $4.8 billion.

At last year's midpoint, shipments reported by the RIAA were down 10.1% in units and 6.7% in value from the first half of 2001. Total CD shipments were down 15.3% in unit terms; this follows a 7% decline in first-half 2002.

The trade group attributes the declines, in large part, to music piracy on peer-to-peer networks and illegal CD copying. "While there are other factors contributing to the decline of music shipments in 2003, including the fact that there are significantly fewer music retail locations, illegal file sharing continues to adversely impact the sale of physical CDs," says RIAA president Cary Sherman. "We believe the use of these illegal peer-to-peer services is hurting the music industry's efforts to distribute music online in the way consumers demand."

Industry observers say reasons for the declines include the closure of an estimated 1,000 stores in the first half of the year. Not only does that make for a smaller retail base, but the closures result in increased returns, which are reflected in the RIAA's net shipment figures.

In addition to the shuttered stores, the industry is beginning to feel the impact of a smaller pipeline as music retailers shrink their music inventory to make room for other merchandise lines.

The RIAA's figures track the number, as well as the list-price value, of all units shipped to retail outlets and other music sellers. According to Nielsen SoundScan, which reports final sales to consumers, total U.S. unit sales for the year to date are down 8.5% from last year.

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