A Strong 2011 Holiday Season Could Bring Music Business First Positive-Sales Year Since 2004
A Strong 2011 Holiday Season Could Bring Music Business First Positive-Sales Year Since 2004

As the year heads into its home stretch, things are looking up for the U.S. music industry - sales are on track to increase over the previous year, something that hasn't happened since 2004.

With nine months of 2011 down, album sales stand at 228.5 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- up 3.3% from the 221.1 million albums sold in the corresponding period of 2010. Overall U.S. unit sales, meanwhile, are up 7.2% to 1.18 billion, from 1.1 billion last year. And when albums including track equivalents are taken into account -- whereby 10 song downloads count as one album unit - albums have jumped 5.4%, to 323.7 million from 307.1 million.

The positive showing for album sales can primarily be attributed to the digital format, where the configuration's scans are up 19.7% to 74.1 million units, compared to 61.9 million units in 2010's first nine months.

The 2011 Music-Sales Boost, By The Numbers

But it's not only digital numbers that are encouraging. Though physical sales are down from last year, the dip isn't nearly as drastic as music executives had long grown used to. CD sales have decreased only 3.6% this year, after experiencing declines ranging between 18%-20% in each of the five previous years.

A banner year from Adele has helped across the board. Her album "21" has moved nearly 3.8 million units, while the best-selling title at the corresponding time last year -- Eminem's "Recovery" -- had garnered 2.7 million units by the end of the third quarter.

With 1.3 million units sold digitally, "21" is the best-selling album in the digital format since SoundScan began tracking such sales in 2003. Adele's song "Rolling In The Deep," with 5.2 million paid downloads, is likewise the best-selling title in the digital format.

Digital Album Sales Way Up in 2011

Where market share is concerned, Universal Music Group has finally pulled away from Sony Music Entertainment, which had been nipping close at its heels for the first six months of 2011. At the end of the nine-month period, UMG's market share tallied 30.3%, while Sony's stood at 28.9%. Meanwhile, the Warner Music Group's market share totaled 18.7% and EMI's came in at 9%. Independent labels' market share, as determined by distribution ownership, totaled 12.6%.

Billboard will present a more comprehensive article on third-quarter stats, including market share by label ownership, in the coming days.