U.K. album sales fell by 6% in the first quarter of 2007 compared to the same period for 2006, according to figures collated by the Official U.K. Charts Company (OCC).

Although compilation albums managed a year-on-year increase of 10.1% to 6,599,500 units during the period, a 9% shortfall in artist album sales pulled overall albums sales down to their lowest Q1 result since 2002.

The combined album sales for Q1 in 2007 was 31,972,380 compared to 33,859,669 for Q1 in 2006. A BPI spokesman described trading conditions as "tough".

The artist album sales figure for the first quarter of 2007 stands at 25,372,880 units, down from 27,865,684 in the first quarter of 2006. The BPI points out that the first quarter of 2006 was boosted by Arctic Monkeys' record-breaking debut set "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not."

Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black" (Island) was the biggest-selling artist album of the first three months of 2007, moving 467,820 units in 13 weeks. That figure is the lowest for a first quarter's biggest seller since Stereophonics' "Just Enough Education To Perform" (V2), which moved 359,836 units at the beginning of 2002.

A BPI spokesman said, "Though trading conditions are tough, the U.K. market has not experienced the declines seen globally." He also noted that two weeks of particularly poor sales at the end of the quarter dragged the market down.

Sales of digital formats, however, continued to rise during the period. In the first quarter, 982,713 download albums were sold. This compares to 609,925 in the second quarter of 2006, the first sales period in which download albums were incorporated into the U.K. charts.

Chart-eligible download tracks also soared, reaching 9,962,826 sales for the quarter, up from 5,171,151 in the first three months of 2006.

Downloads helped drive the singles market to 40% growth, despite the physical singles format declining by 34%.

"Of course it's encouraging that digital continues to grow," says the BPI spokesman, "but we must remember that this is still a market in its infancy and shouldn't expect it to solve the difficulties faced by in the physical business overnight."

The Official U.K. Charts Company collects sales data from 6,200 retailers, including all the leading chains, some 600 independent stores and all significant online stores. It is jointly owned by the BPI and U.K. retail trade body ERA.