UMG loudest so far in '07, but sales skid


NEW YORK -- Universal Music Group increased its lead as the largest U.S. distributor of albums, with a market share boost of one percentage point to 32.3% in the nine-month period ending Sept. 30, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The bad news, however, is that considering the declining market, that number translates into a 12.2% decline in scans. UMG's album count dropped to 108.9 million units from the 122.8 million it generated in the first nine months of 2006.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment, ranked No. 2, was the only distributor to lose market share this year, with its slice of the pie falling to 24.7% compared with the 26.8% it had through September last year.

Warner Music Group is third and growing as its market share at the end of the third quarter reached 20.2%, a one percentage point increase over the 19.2% it had last year. The independent sector -- excluding major-owned indies such as Ryko, RED, and Fontana -- finished with a 12.8% piece of the market, up a tick from the 12.7% it had in the corresponding nine months last year.

Rounding out the rankings, EMI Music held steady at 10%.

Meanwhile, looking at the overall U.S. market, music transactions finished the third quarter with 951.3 million so far this year, a 16.8% increase from the 814.6 million counted at this point last year. That's largely due to the 612.2 million digital track downloads, up 46.3% from the 418.6 million generated in the corresponding period last year. But album sales are down 14.2% to 337.3 million units from 393.1 million at this point last year. Within that, CD sales are down 18.5% to 300.6 million units compared with about 369 million units last year. But digital album downloads continue to grow, standing at 35.8 million units, representing 10.6% of all album scans.

So far in the first nine months of 2007, 20 albums have broken the million-unit milestone this year, led by Daughtry's self-titled album, which has scanned slightly more than 2 million units. But that's down from the 26 titles that earned that distinction in the same period last year, when their were two multiple-platinum albums: the "High School Musical" soundtrack," which stood at 3.1 million units, and Rascal Flatts "Me and My Gang," with 2.5 million units. The latter group's new album, "Still Feels Good," debuted at No. 1 this week with 547,000 units scanned.

As the album declines, digital tracks continue to rise, with 26 titles breaking the million-unit mark so far this year led by Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape" and Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry." Both titles round off to 2.03 million downloads, though Stefani has the edge by 1,209 copies. Last year, at this point, only 10 track downloads had scanned more than 1 million units.