British consumers will likely spend more than £160 million ($312 million) on digital downloads this year, up by roughly 50% from the previous year, according to new figures published by ERA Digital, a division of the Entertainment Retailers Association trade body.

A spike in interest for full album downloads is one of the catalysts for growth, ERA reports, a format which is forecast to account for £69.4 million ($135 million) in sales this year. Single track downloads will be worth an estimated £96.4 million ($188 million).

Single track download sales in the month of January alone reached £6.3 million ($12 million), a rise of 45% on the same month in 2007, ERA Digital reports.

The market, according to ERA Digital chairman Russel Coultart, has received an adrenaline shot from the arrival to market of such players as Play.com, and the gradual abandonment of digital rights management.

"The big question is the extent to which new players in the market will drive overall market size," says Coultart. "It is certainly the case that 2008 will see a lot more marketing activity to the consumer. If all goes as expected, the total market could easily exceed £160 million, up 50% on 2007."

ERA director general Kim Bayley noted that the health of the digital business has corresponded with "a promising start" the year for sales of physical goods. "Games and DVD continue to be the star performers for entertainment retailers, but our members are optimistic that a stronger product line-up from record companies in 2008 will produce good news for music sales."

ERA Digital held its inaugural meeting last Thursday (Feb. 13).