Digital music downloads continued to show substantial growth in Japan in 2007, according to data released Feb. 21 by local labels body the Recording Industry Assn. of Japan.

Downloads totaled 465 million units, up 26% over 2006, for a value of ¥75.5 billion ($699 million), up 41%.

Sales of PC-based music download sales -- including full tracks, albums and music videos -- rose 30% to just under 31 million units, for a wholesale value of ¥5.92 billion ($54.8 million), up 18% over 2006.

RIAJ's 45 member companies saw mobile-based music downloads total close to 434 million units in calendar 2007, a rise of 26%, for a wholesale value of ¥68 billion ($629.6 million), up 41%.

Master ringtones continue to represent the largest sector for mobile content at 223.9 million units, down slightly down (1%) from 2006.

A total of 86.6 million ringback tunes were sold in 2007, up 90%, for a value of ¥6.14 billion ($56.9 million), up 129% in value over 2006. Full-track downloads came to 111.1 million units, a rise of 99%, for a value of ¥34.4 billion ($318.6 million), up 91% over 2006.

"The 2007 figures reflect how advanced technology allowed mobile phones to download full-length songs as opposed to 30-second ring tones, which in turn boosted the demand of users to utilize their mobile phones as music players, and we expect this trend will continue to grow," a spokesperson for RIAJ commented.

Steve Myers, president of Theta Music Technologies, Inc., tells, "Mobiles will continue to dominate digital downloads," but reckons the dominance of master ringtones is on the wane. "They are no longer 'in vogue,'" he states. "The novelty effect has long since worn off and carriers do not promote them that much, focusing instead on single-track and video."

Myers believes that the increased number of flat-rate data plans for mobiles has led to greater popularity and ease of access for full-track downloads. "The fact that flat-rate data plans are becoming more common has also encouraged more downloads, since customers don't have to pay any extra for the data packet charges," he explained.

Industry sources point out that the figures are only those of RIAJ members and do not take into account the strong independent sector in Japan.

The RIAJ's fourth-quarter figures reflected the overall trends for the year. In total, 117.5 million units were shipped in the quarter, up 22% over the October-December period in 2006, while sales rose by 34% to ¥20.2 billion ($187 million).

The RIAJ defines the PC-downloads category as comprising singles, albums, mini albums and "other related content" sold over wired networks, with albums and mini-albums counting as single units regardless of the number of tracks they contain. Although the data doesn't differentiate between sales of single tracks and albums, singles account for the overwhelming majority of download sales, the association says.