Although U.S. sales were slightly less robust in the fourth quarter than they were in the preceding two quarters of this year, the market still managed to hold onto its first positive album sales growth year since 2004. Overall U.S. album sales rose 1.4% to 330.6 million units, up from 2010's total of 326.2 million units.
Total music sales last year enjoyed a 6.9% increase to 1.6 billion units, up from the nearly 1.51 billion sales transactions counted by Nielsen SoundScan in 2010. In other data, SoundScan counted 76,875 new releases last year, versus 75,159, a 2.2% increase.
With Adele's "21" leading the way, 13 albums each sold 1 million units or more, the same amount as last year.
In digital songs, Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" scanned 5.2 million as the year's top song seller; it was one of 112 tracks that each scanned more than 1 million units. Last year, 80 songs achieved that sales plateau.
In the king of the hill battle, Universal Music Group held off a strong challenge from Sony Music Entertainment, finishing the year with 30.7% market share in albums and track-equivalent-albums (TEA), while the latter clocked in with 28.4%. It was Universal's track strength that allowed it to retain the top spot in the rankings as it tallied a nearly 33% track market share compared with Sony, which came in at 26.2% in that configuration.
Meanwhile, for overall album share, Sony and UMG went toe-to-toe all year, with UMG coming out slightly on top, 29.85% share versus 29.3% share.
Moving onto digital track-sales, the configuration grew to 1.27 billion, up nearly 100 million units, or 8.5%, from the 1. 17 billion recorded in 2010. In combining track album sales with track equivalents, whereby 10 tracks equal one album, that grew 3.2% to 457.7 million units this year, up from 2010's total of 443.4 million units.
Looking at album sales, digital posted a whopping 19.5% increase to 103.1 million units from 86.3 million units. In the physical formats, CD sales decreased 5.7% to 223.5 million units from the 236.9 million units tallied in 2010. That makes for a 5.7% decline in the CD album format for the year, which is actually a drastic improvement from the 18%-to-20% decline the industry has recorded in each of the last four years, although this was significantly due to discounting on catalog. As for vinyl albums, that format scanned nearly 4 million units, up from 2.8 million units in 2010.
But looking at digital and physical another way, for the first time digital albums and digital track equivalents have crossed the 50% threshold, accounting for 230.2 million albums with TEA in 2011, or 50.3% of the total albums with TEA of 457.7 million units. In the prior year, albums with TEA totaled 203.5 million units, or 45.9% of the 443.3 million units tallied in 2010.
On the other hand, when consumers made the decision to buy the album configuration, which means track equivalent album sales are excluded, more than two-thirds of the time (or 68.7%), they chose to purchase the physical album, as opposed to the digital album download, which accounts for 31.1%, with the remainder being music videos.
Within album sales, catalog turned in the best performance, posting a 9% increase to 151.2 million units from the 138.9 million units posted in 2010 (also significantly due to catalog discounts). Current albums, meanwhile, fell by 4.2% to 179.4 million units, from the prior year's total of 187.3 million units
Looking at genres, of the large categories rock had the biggest gain -- up 1.9%, to 105.7 million units from 103.7 million units in 2010, while R&B, country and Latin all suffered declines, with the latter down 4.3% to 11.8 million units from the prior year's total of 12.4 million units; while country was down 1.8% to 42.9 million units from 2010's total of 43.7 million units. Christian/gospel was down 2% to 23.7 million units from 24.3 million units in 2010; and R&B was down 4.2% to 55.4 million units from 57.9 million units.
But within R&B, the rap category was vibrant, growing 3.3% to 28.3 million units from 27.3 million units. Meanwhile, jazz grew 26.1% to 11.1 million units from 8.8 million units, thanks to Michael Buble's "Christmas" album (which is counted as a jazz album), which has scanned 2.4 million units in 2011.
Also, the electronic/dance category's popularity showed in its sales, which popped by 15% to 10 million units, from 8.7 million units in 2010.