Sales of legal downloads in the United Kingdom for the year to date have surpassed 500,000 songs, compared to "virtually none" in the corresponding period last year, according to a new report publishe

Sales of legal downloads in the United Kingdom for the year to date have surpassed 500,000 songs, compared to "virtually none" in the corresponding period last year, according to a new report published by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

The sales data, covering the first five months of the year, were collated by the Official U.K. Charts Co. (OCC), a joint venture between the BPI and the British Assn. of Record Dealers (BARD).

Without disclosing figures, the BPI says Coldplay's "2,000 Miles" is the best-selling download in the United Kingdom so far this year, followed closely by OutKast's "Hey Ya." Details on the performance of individual downloads will be publicly available later this summer, when the OCC rolls out its U.K. download chart. That chart is in the final test stages, says the BPI.

Evidence of British consumers' growing acceptance of legitimate digital music comes amid a flurry of activity in the U.K. download space, which in the past two weeks has seen Napster's first launch outside the United States and the launch of Oxfam's charity download service.

"This is shaping up to be a breakthrough year for the music industry," comments BPI chairman Peter Jamieson in a statement.

However, the BPI report shows the traditional recorded-music market continuing to struggle. The U.K. industry registered a 4.3% decline in value to £212.15 million ($389 million) in the first quarter, according to the report, as growing demand for the music DVD format helped offset a sharp fall in the singles sector. The value of music-DVD shipments rose 22.5% during the period, to £7.1 million ($13 million). Music DVD now accounts for 3.9% of the British recorded-music market in value terms.

Any gains achieved in music DVD, however, were largely offset by a dramatic fall in the singles market. During the period, shipments of singles plummeted 29.7% for a value of £11.35 million ($20 million). The lion's share of the slide is attributed to CD singles, which fell 32.1% in value to £8.4 million ($15 million). No shipments of cassette singles were registered in the first quarter.

First-quarter shipments of the CD album format recorded a year-on-year decline of 2.9%, for a value of £191.98 million ($352 million). The result is relatively buoyant when stacked against French market figures: Paris-based trade body SNEP last month announced a 21.4% decline in shipments of CD albums during the same period.

Annualized totals for the British market indicate a 3% rise in the value of total recorded-music shipments to £1.213 billion ($2.2 billion), underpinned by a 3.5% rise in the value of albums to £1.105 billion ($2.02 billion).

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