Britain's recorded music market continued to register growth in 2004. New figures issued today (Jan. 7) by the British Phonographic Industry illustrate that a record 163.4 million albums were sold ov

Britain's recorded music market continued to register growth in 2004. New figures issued today (Jan. 7) by the British Phonographic Industry illustrate that a record 163.4 million albums were sold over the counter during the year, up 2.6% from the previous peak of 159.3 million in 2003.

The statistics were compiled by the Official U.K. Charts Co., which collects sales data from more than 6,000 outlets. The OCC is a joint venture of the BPI and the British Assn. of Record Dealers.

Local repertoire accounted for a decisive share of album sales in 2004. Of the top 20 albums for the year, 11 were by either home-grown artists or those signed domestically. Polydor U.K.-signed newcomers the Scissor Sisters, who are based in New York, had the best-selling album of the year, their eponymous set. It was followed by Keane's "Hopes and Fears" (Universal Island) and Robbie Williams' "Greatest Hits" (Chrysalis).

Based on the OCC data, Universal Music U.K. had the No. 1 market share during the period. It lead in all formats, with a 27.8% share for albums, 29.6% for singles and 27% for compilations.

While sales of physical singles continued to decline in 2004, the legitimate online music market made inroads. Some 5.7 million tracks were sold through legal download services during the year, according to the OCC, whereas almost none were registered in 2003.

Such was the maturation of the download market that during the last week of 2004, sales of legitimate downloads outpaced those of physical singles for the first time. "This was an extraordinary week," says BPI chairman Peter Jamieson, who describes the occasion as "an important milestone in the growth of download sales and a sign of things to come." Overall, the physical singles market in 2004 shrank 14.2% year-on-year to 26.5 million units.

The BPI's corresponding market statistics, which measure trade shipments and include mail-order and multiple accounting for double albums, will be released later in the year.