LOS ANGELES (AP) - U.S. album sales were down by about seven percent as 2005 drew to a close but the budding market for music downloads, which more than doubled over last year, helped narrow the reven

LOS ANGELES (AP) - U.S. album sales were down by about seven percent as 2005 drew to a close but the budding market for music downloads, which more than doubled over last year, helped narrow the revenue gap, figures released Wednesday (Dec. 28) showed.

Album sales from January through the week ending Dec. 25 stood at 602.2 million, compared with 650.8 million for the same period last year, Nielsen SoundScan said.

Combined, album and singles sales fell by about eight per cent over the same time last year. More than 95 per cent of music is sold in CD format.

Downloaded tracks from online retailers soared to 332.7 million this year, compared with 134.2 million in 2004, an increase of 148 per cent.

While good news for recording companies looking to expand download sales, it doesn't bode well for music retailers relying on customers to buy music CDs, rather than digital downloads to turn a profit amid declining sales.

"More and more we're seeing customers switch to downloads or burning CDs from their friends," said Jesse Klempner, owner of Aron's Records in Hollywood.

"The last couple of years we've been hanging on by our teeth."

The top three best-selling albums of 2005 through Dec. 21 were rapper 50 Cent's The Massacre, which had sold 4.8 million copies, followed by Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi with 4.6 million sold, and Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway, which sold 3.3 million units, Nielsen SoundScan said.

Full-album downloads are counted under album sales along with other formats. Most digital downloads reflect single-track purchases.

Sales of music-related videos, another key revenue source for brick-mortar retailers, plunged by 23 per cent over the same time last year, Nielsen SoundScan said.

Holiday shoppers helped pump up music download sales figures with some last-minute shopping, buying 9.6 million downloads - the biggest sales week ever for digital downloads, according to the company.

Music lovers bought five million tracks during the same week last year.

Final 2005 figures won't be available until Jan. 4, 2006. The last week of the year typically sees a boost in music sales as gift certificates or other promotions given out for the holidays are spent. Those additional sales could help narrow the sales gap further.

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