As Australia moves into the summer season, the country's retail market is defying the gloom of its northern counterparts. Overall Australian album sales in the lead-up to Christmas are well up on the corresponding period last year, according to figures published Thursday (Dec. 4) by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).

For the six-week period which began Oct. 27, ARIA reports sales of CDs are 22% up on the same period in 2007, thanks in no small part to the release of blockbuster titles from AC/DC, Pink, Kings of Leon and the Killers.

The week Sony released AC/DC's "Black Ice" (Albert/Sony) in October saw a 47% rise in the physical sales compared with the same week in 2007. As previously reported, "Black Ice" was the fastest-selling album in two years, shifting more than 83,000 units over the counter in its first week. The following week, Pink's LaFace/Sony set "Funhouse" pushed AC/DC from the top spot, selling more than 86,000 copies in the process and helping lift the CD market 57% above the same period last time.

Geoff Bonouvrie, proprietor of Sydney record store Mall Music and chair of the Australian Music Retailer Association (AMRA) tells Billboard.biz that the fourth quarter is shaping up to be the best in four or five years.

"It's just been flat-out busy since we opened the doors this morning. It's been full-on," Bonouvrie says. "I'm standing at the counter and nearly every third customer has a Pink album. If you think back to the days when Dire Straights were setting sales records, it feels like that now."

Bonouvrie says the economic downturn has actually helped drive footfall in Aussie retail outlets. "When the economy goes sour, music seems to be something people want to get on to," he notes. "It's a cheap form of entertainment."

Ed St John, ARIA chairman and president/ CEO of Warner Music Australasia, concurs. "Given the current economic climate, consumers appear to be re-prioritizing their spending and music suddenly looks like a really attractively priced gift," he says in a statement.

The local industry remains confident CD sales will continue to soar in the coming weeks on the strength of a frontline release schedule which includes sets by the likes of Dido, Enya, Beyonce, Kanye West, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, and the positive sales effect which the January/February national Big Day Out festival tour typically brings.

"We sometimes hear the complaint that nobody's releasing good music anymore, but I think the range of albums on offer this Christmas proves that to be completely incorrect," notes St John. "The albums available this Christmas really do offer something for everybody. For around A$20 ($12.86) you can purchase an album that will entertain you, move you and lift your spirits. We all need a bit of that right now."

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