Downloading has helped 2009 become the biggest-ever year for single sales in the United Kingdom with more than 117 million units sold to date, according to labels body the BPI.

The previous record figure for U.K. single sales was set in 2008 when 115.1 million units were sold. Significantly, this year's record total of 117m has been reached with 10 weeks of trading, including the vital pre-Christmas period, still to come.

Commenting on the record growth of U.K. single sales, BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said in a statement: "We've witnessed an astonishing transformation of the U.K. singles market during the last six years, with digital downloads rapidly overtaking sales of CD singles and cassettes to dominate the singles scene."

"That singles have hit these heights while there are still more than a billion illegal downloads every year in the U.K. is testimony to the quality of releases this year and the vibrancy of the U.K. download market," he went onto say.

"Consumers," Taylor claimed, "are responding to the value and innovation offered by the legal services and these new figures show how the market could explode if the Government acts to tackle illegal peer-to-peer file sharing."

According to figures from the Official U.K. Charts Co (OCC), 98.6% of all singles sold in the U.K. in 2009 have been retailed in digital formats. And more than 389.2m single track downloads have now been sold in the U.K. since the launch of the first mainstream online stores in 2004.

Crediting a high number of big-selling songs by artists such as Lady Gaga, La Roux, Dizzee Rascal, Lily Allen and Black Eyed Peas as driving sales, Martin Talbot, OCC managing director, said in a statement: "The explosion in the singles market has been nothing short of astonishing this year. This truly is the era of the digital single."

Last week, the solo debut of the Girls Aloud lead singer Cheryl Cole "Fight For This Love" (Fascination/Polydor/Universal) became the U.K.'s highest selling single of 2009, with first-week sales totalling 290,000.

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