Digital sales are soothing for record biz


While sales of physical albums continued to plummet during the first nine months of 2006, big increases in the sale of digital tracks and albums have kept the overall music business in line with last year's totals.

According to Nielsen SoundScan figures for the week ending Oct. 1, marking the end of the third quarter, physical album sales so far this year totaled 370.5 million, down 8.3% from the 404.2 million units racked up in the same time period last year.

However, digital album sales climbed 115%, with 22.6 million sold through September. Downloaded tracks soared 72%, with 418.6 million sold in the first nine months of the year.

Adding digital albums and track equivalent albums (with 10 digital tracks equaling one album) to physical sales, a total of 434.9 million albums have been sold in 2006. The total is short of last year's nine-month tally of 439.2 million units by a slight one-tenth of one percent.

Walt Disney Records' "High School Musical" soundtrack remains the top-selling release so far this year, with 3.1 million copies moved to date. Second is country act Rascal Flatts' "Me and My Gang," issued by Disney's Lyric Street imprint it has shifted 2.5 million copies.

Three '05 holdovers have stretched long legs this year. The No. 3 title, U.K. singer-songwriter James Blunt's "Back to Bedlam" (Custard/Atlantic), has sold 1.9 million of its 2.2 million-unit total. No. 4, "American Idol" queen Carrie Underwood's "Some Hearts" (Arista), has reaped sales of 1.8 million, with 3.5 million sold overall. Mary J. Blige's No. 5 title "The Breakthrough" (Geffen) has sold 1.6 million of its 2.6 million-unit total.

In terms of market share through three quarters, Universal Music Group remains the leader, with 31.3% of the total album market its total includes sales by its indie arm Fontana Distribution, which are not broken out. Sony BMG Music Entertainment is second, with 26.8%, including 2.3% accounted for by its indie distributorship RED. Warner Music Group places third, with 19.2%, including 2.7% from its indie unit Alternative Distribution Alliance and 0.7% from Ryko Distribution).

The independent sector took fourth position, with 12.7%. EMI Music is fifth, with 10%, including 0.9% from its indie Caroline Distribution.

The rankings remain the same when the market share of current albums (18 months old or less) is considered. UMG is first with 33.8%, Sony BMG is second with 26.9%, WMG is third with 26.9%, the indies are fourth with 11.8%, and EMI is fifth with 9%.

On this week's Billboard 200, rapper-actor Ludacris' "Release Therapy" (DTP/Def Jam) met strong challenges from new releases by Janet Jackson and Tony Bennett to take the top position. The title -- Ludacris' third No. 1 -- logged first-week sales of 309,000.

Jackson's much-trumpeted "20 Y.O." (Virgin) enters at No. 2, launching with sales of 296,000. The collection, which failed to maintain a surge after the singer's "Oprah" appearance last week, fell well short of the 381,000 units her "Damita Jo" sold in its 2004 debut week; it's a far cry from the chart-topping 605,000-unit debut of 2001's "All for You."

Bennett's upper-demo-friendly "Duets: An American Classic" (Columbia) moves in at No. 3 with a 202,000-unit tally, for his best album chart entry ever. The package, widely available at Starbucks, mates the veteran pop singer with such vocal partners as Elton John, Bono, Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand.

Alan Jackson's "Like Red on a Rose" (Arista Nashville), the country singer's second album of 2006, bows at No. 4. The new Alison Krauss-produced collection of love songs sold 149,000. In March, Jackson's collection of inspirational songs, "Precious Memories," also entered the chart at No. 4.

After two weeks at No. 1, former 'N Sync vocalist Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" (Jive) falls four positions, resting at No. 5 with 147,000 sold.

Singer-guitarist John Mayer's "Continuum" (Columbia) loses one slot, drifting to No. 6 with a 91,000-unit week. Oklahoma rock act Hinder shows the only sales gain in the top 10. Its "Extreme Behavior" (Universal) rises three positions to No. 7, scoring a 10% boost and sales of 77,000.

"American Idol" grad Clay Aiken's "A Thousand Different Ways" (RCA) takes a stinging 65% sales hit in its second week, losing six positions and plunging to No. 8 with 74,000 sold. Black Eyed Peas songstress Fergie's "The Dutchess" (A and M) takes a slightly less cataclysmic 53% blow but also loses six rungs, sliding to No. 9 with a 74,000-unit frame.

Rock parodist Weird Al Yankovic laughs his way into the top 10 with his biggest debut ever: "Straight Outta Lynwood" (Volcano), which includes the Chamillionaire spoof "White and Nerdy," enters at No. 10 with 73,000 sold.