Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" was the top selling album in the U.S. in the first half of the year, as a familiar downward sales trend proved to be not as dramatic as in 2009.

The bad news: Second-half sales in 2010 will be matched against the boost provided by Michael Jackson last year. Overall, U.S. album sales, including track equivalents, fell 8.2% in the first six months of 2010 to 213.7 million. That was down from the 232.8 million in the corresponding period of 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

For the 26-week period beginning Jan.4 and ending July 4, 2010, album sales were down 11% to 154 million from 172.9 million units in the corresponding period last year.

Track sales were down 0.2% to 597.4 million from the 598.9 million recorded last year in the corresponding period. Industry observers ascribe the slowdown in track sales to the price increase to $1.29 from 99 cents for hit titles.

CD album sales were down 17.9% to 110.3 million units from 134.6 million units, and digital album sales were up 12.7% to 42.2 million units from the 37.1 million units tallied in the first half of 2009.

Universal Music Group (UMG) continues to lead the industry with 30.3% market share in U.S. album sales with track equivalents, up a tick from last year's 30.2% during the corresponding period. Sony Music Entertainment ranked No. 2, finishing the first half with 27.8%, down a tick from the 27.9% it had in the first quarter of this year, but up from the 25.9% the company garnered in the first half of 2009.

In album sales, Sony has pulled almost within one percentage point of UMG, with the former posting a 28.3% market share and the latter 29.4% for the first six months of 2010. But UMG's command in track market share, which stood at 33.3% at mid-year, continues to be decisive in its market share battle with Sony, which had a six-month track market share of 25.8%.

Where Were The Sales?
In looking at where sales occur, non-traditional merchants like, iTunes and Starbucks—which in the first quarter became the largest retail sector—continued to widen their lead. Those retailers pulled 55.5 million album scans, up 10.2% from the 50.4 million the sector had in the first half of 2009.

Mass merchants, with 50 million units in the first half, suffered a 13% decline from the 57.5 million units they had in 2009's first half.

Chains like Trans World and Borders had the biggest sales drop at retail, down 33.3% to 35.4 million units from the nearly 53 million units that sector had in the first half of 2009.

A small portion of that decline is due to Nielsen SoundScan's re-categorizing of chains like Newbury Comics, Rasputin, Dimples and Gallery of Sound into the indie sector at the beginning of the year. That shift is proving a boon to the indie sector, which saw its scans jump 8.5% to 13 million units in the first half of 2010, versus the 12 million units the sector garnered in the first half of 2009.

Genre Breakdowns
All the major categories suffered a decline but the most resilient appears to be Christian/gospel, which was only down 7.7% to 11.1 million units from the nearly 12 million that sector scanned in the first half of 2009.

Also outperforming the industry, country albums scanned 18.7 million units in the first half of 2010, which was down 9.1% from the 20.6 million units the sector garnered in the corresponding period of 2009.

Latin was hit the hardest, with sales dropping 28.3% to 6.4 million units from the 8.9 million units it tallied in the first half of 2009.

Both rock and R&B (which includes rap) were slightly softer than the rest of the industry, finishing respectively with drops of 13.7% and 12.5% versus the overall U.S. industry's album decline of 11%. Rock albums declined to 51 million units from 59.2 million units while R&B dropped to 28.7 million units from 32.8 million units.

SoundScan, which had a 53-week year in 2009, has eliminated sales from the first week ending Jan. 4, 2009. In order to maintain a 13-week comparison for all quarters in this year, the tracking service ended its first quarter on April 4, 2010, and its second quarter on July 4.