Say What? Thanks To Digital Music, Album Sales Up For The First Time Since 2004

SoundScan, Nielsen’s report that tracks point-of-purchase music sales across real and digital sources, was released today, and at long last contains a few rays of hope for the beleaguered music industry. The midyear sales data shows that, among other things, for the first time since 2004, album sales actually increased in the first half of this year. Now, before you fall out of your chair, total album sales are only up 1 percent, so it’s not as if sales are blowing the roof off, but at least they’re no longer plummeting.

Yes, according to SoundScan, 155.5 million albums were sold in the U.S. in the first six months of 2011, compared to the 153.9 million albums sold at this time last year, resulting in that slim 1 percent hike. Of course, when one includes single-track downloads (generally speaking, 10 songs are the equivalent of an album) the number of albums sold comes to 221.5 million, resulting in a 3.6 percent rise.

I was going to say these numbers aren’t exactly something to “write home about”, but for an industry that acted like a petulant child in the face of the digital revolution, this might very well be something to write home about. Prior to 2004, album sales had decreased every year since 1999. Which, of course, happens to be the same year Napster was founded. Though that has to be a coincidence. And, to that point, guess what the catalyst is for the bump in music sales data? Yup, it’s digital music sales.

According to Nielsen, “digital album sales are up 19 percent through the first six months over 2010 and are on pace to set a new sales record at the end of the year”. More than 660.8 million digital units were sold in the first half of 2011, an 11 percent increase from the summer of last year.

This comes on the heels of a Pandora IPO, as well as Google, Apple, and Amazon getting into cloud music hosting and purchasing, with Google Music, iCloud, and Cloud Drive, respectively. Earlier today, we covered Amazon ramping up its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player offerings, throwing in unlimited storage for music.

It’s actually a very exciting time for music fans, with these industry-changing cloud music services that will only continue to expand functionality and integration with existing web and mobile wares. Not to mention the fact that sites like, exFm, and umpteen others are making music discovery easier and more exciting, which in turn leads to users going out and buying tracks and albums from iTunes, Amazon, etc.

That being said, according to CNET, the major internet service providers are poised to add some strict new rules intended to discourage digital pirating of both music and video copyrighted content, so we’ll just have to wait and see how much we (and the music industry) have learned our collective lessons.

Lastly, not that I want to make any further sweeping statements about the state of the music industry, but I will point out that “E.T.” by Katy Perry tops the chart for the best selling digital song for the first six months of 2011, with 4.1 million downloads. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from this fact.

Excerpt image via James Grahame