Digital Music Sales Finally Surpassed Physical Sales in 2011

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Last year, for the first time in history, digital music sales exceeded physical sales, according to a newly released Nielsen/Billboard report cited by CNNMoney. In 2011, digital music sales climbed past physical sales to take a 50.3% market share of all music purchases. In a continuation of a multi-year trend, digital sales increased by 8.4% from 2010, while physical sales declined 5%.

In the decade since Apple launched its iTunes music store, a host of digital music ventures have appeared, with varying degrees of success. iTunes remains the market leader but faces increasing competition from upstarts like Rdio, Spotify and Pandora, which went public earlier this year.

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The big winners for 2011? The 23-year-old British star Adele defied the prevailing trend toward singles by selling 5.8 million copies of her album 21. She became the first artist to sell more than 5 million albums since Usher’s Confessions in 2004. She also became the first artist to claim the top spot for Best Selling Artist, Album and Digital Song (“Rolling In The Deep”).

Lady Gaga nabbed the title for most-streamed artist, with 135 million streams, while Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” was the most-streamed song, with 84.9 million audio streams and 71 million video streams.

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Here are some other details from the Nielsen/Billboard 2011 Music Industry Report:

  • There were 228 million physical album sales in 2011, a decline of 5% over 2010, significantly less than the 19.5% decline in 2010.
  • Digital track sales set a new record with 1.27 billion sales in 2011, an increase of 100 million sales (8.4%) over 2010.
  • For the first time, a digital song had more than 5 million downloads in a calendar year; Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” sold 5.8 million downloads and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” sold 5.5 million.
  • Adele’s 21 finished the year as the biggest selling album with just more than 5.8 million sales. This is the first time since 2004 that an album sold more than 5 million copies in a year. Usher’s album Confessions sold 8 million copies in 2004.
  • Adele held top honors in many sales categories this year and became the first artist to claim the top spot for Best Selling Artist, Album and Digital Song in the same year.
  • Lady Gaga claimed the top spot as the most streamed artist in 2011 with more than 135 million streams.
  • Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” was the most streamed song and music video in 2011 with 84.9 million audio streams and 71 million video streams.
  • Digital album sales ended the year on a high note, with a record 3.5 million sales in the last week of 2011.
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