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Midyear Digital Music Milestones

July 11, 2011

As we enter the second half of 2011, a look back at U.S. music sales for the first six months of the year reveals several upward online sales trends and significant mileposts in the digital marketplace’s ongoing evolution.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, overall sales volumes at midyear are up 3.6 percent (as measured by “TEA” counting ten tracks as one album plus overall album sales) versus the first half of 2010.  While physical album sales are down six percent, digital albums are one of the strongest growing segments of the market, up a noteworthy 19 percent versus the prior year with more than 50 million digital albums sold.  In addition, individual digital track sales exceeded 650 million in the first half of 2011 and grew 11 percent year-over-year.

So what music have fans purchased online?  A bit of everything.  According to SoundScan current releases, catalog material, and even deep catalog digital album sales were all up by double digits for the first half of 2011.

Just last week we witnessed Eminem make history: his “Recovery” album became the first ever to sell one million digital copies.  Not far behind, both Lady Gaga’s “The Fame” and Adele’s “21” are closely approaching one million download sales each.  Nine other albums have crossed the 500,000 digital copies sold threshold as well.

Looking at digital tracks, 52 different songs have sold more than one million copies so far in 2011.  Of those, 13 songs have surpassed two million sold, two others have sold three million, and two more – Katy Perry’s “E.T.” and Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep”– have hit four million downloads to become the best selling tracks thus far this year. 

To boot, the RIAA certified a record 209 digital single certifications in the first half of 2011 – compared to 313 total in all of 2010 – as part of its historic Gold & Platinum Certification program.  2011’s – and history’s –  highest digital single certifications at 6x multi-Platinum are Flo Rida’s “Low,” Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

What’s our midyear takeaway?  We’ve obviously seen better sales figures so far this year than in a while.  It’s encouraging, though we’re still an industry that is hard hit by digital theft and less than half the size it was ten years ago.  There’s probably no one single reason, but we’d like to think that enhanced marketing efforts – like the sale of music at nontraditional outlets – and anti-piracy successes like the closure of LimeWire have helped.


There’s no doubt that music’s appeal is as high as ever and that fans today have access to more legal music than ever before.  Still our job remains to keep that legal access growing at a pace equal to or better than the proliferation of illegal P2P, storage locker, streaming and other rogue sites that operate without any compensation or respect for the music community and those left working in it.

In short, no jumping for joy - a cautious thumbs up.


Joshua P. Friedlander, Vice President, Research and Strategic Analysis, RIAA