Ed Sheeran Helps UK Album Sales Jump Over 9 Percent as Streaming Takes Hold

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Ed Sheeran performs on stage during day two of Capital's Jingle Bell Ball with Coca-Cola at London's O2 Arena. 

Labels trade body BPI reports that streaming now accounts for over half of all U.K. music consumption.

Record sales in the U.K. rose for the third consecutive year in 2017 thanks to big selling domestic acts like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith and the growing popularity of streaming services.

135 million albums or their equivalent were sold in the U.K. last year, according to labels trade body BPI, which says the 9.5 percent year-on-year growth is the biggest sales spike since 1998.    

A separate analysis of Official Charts Company data by the London-based Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) says the sales total represents £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in trade value across all formats.   

In line with the world's other leading markets, uptake in subscriptions accounted for much of the growth, with over 68 billion streams listened to by British consumers in 2017, up 51 percent on the previous year and a mammoth 1,740 percent rise from just five years ago. According to BPI, streaming now accounts for over half (50.4 percent) of all U.K. music consumption, with December seeing a new landmark of 1.5 billion audio streams consumed in a single week.  

ERA reports that streaming sales for the year totaled £577 million ($783 million), up 42 percent on 2016 and marking the first time they have exceeded half-a-billion pounds. As a direct consequence, download revenues tumbled by 23 percent, totaling £165 million ($224 million), with 13.8 million albums (or AES) downloaded.

The picture is equally mixed when it comes to physical formats. On the one hand, vinyl sales climbed to levels not seen since the early Nineties, with over 4 million vinyl albums sold in 2017 -- up 27 percent year-on-year -- and equivalent to one in 10 of all physical music purchases.

However, for all the headlines generated by the 'vinyl revival' it remains very much a niche format, representing just 3 percent of the total British market. Far more enduring are CDs, which despite falling by 12 percent continue to make up just over 30 percent of all music sales in the U.K. with 41 million units sold in 2017.

Home-grown acts accounted for eight of the top-10 best-selling artist albums, with Sheeran's Divide the year's most streamed, physically purchased (both on CD and LP) and downloaded album. 2017 is the 13th year in a row that the best-selling artist album in the U.K. has come from a British act.

Other top 10 artist albums over the past 12 months include Rag'n'Bone Man debut Human (Columbia/Sony), Smith's The Thrill Of It All (Capitol/Universal), Little Mix's Glory Days (Syco/Sony) and Pink's Beautiful Trauma (RCA/Sony). Taking compilation sales into account, three Now titles -- Now 97, Now 98 and Now 96 -- featured in the overall top 5 albums chart.

Official Charts Company Artist Albums Chart 2017
1. Ed Sheeran ‘Divide’
2. Rag’n’Bone Man ‘Human’
3. Sam Smith ‘The Thrill Of It All’
4. Little Mix ‘Glory Days’
5. Pink ‘Beautiful Trauma’
6. Ed Sheeran ‘x’
7. Michael Ball & Alfie Boe ‘Together Again’
8. Drake ‘More Life’
9. Liam Gallagher ‘As You Were’
10. Stormzy ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’

Sheeran also claimed 2017's biggest single with "Shape of You" and was the year's most streamed artist ahead of Drake and Little Mix.

"Demand for music in the U.K. is growing fast, driven by brilliant British artists such as Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Rag'n'Bone Man, Little Mix, Stormzy and Dua Lipa and the innovative music industry that supports them," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor in a statement accompanying the sales figures.

"Whilst the rapid growth of streaming and resilient demand for physical formats gives us confidence for the future, it is important to remember that the music industry still has a long way to go to recover fully," Taylor went on to say, warning that "structural challenges must be overcome if long-term growth is to be sustained."

He cited the 'value gap' and the possible visa restrictions to touring U.K. musicians following Brexit among the obstacles that need to be overcome if British music is to continue to thrive.

"The music industry is in a permanent state of transformation," added Matt Ingham of U.K. independent label Cherry Red Records. "The combination of new and old technology means the industry can continue to rise to the challenge of providing the public with music to treasure forever."