What Year Did Digital Music Finally Outsell CDs?
All things considered, CDs probably held their lead over the MP3 considerably longer than many expected.
But last year, something finally gave.
With all numbers crunched and all dust settled, the 2011 year-end report by The Nielsen Company and Billboard revealed that downloads finally outsold CDs last year. Individual-track sales rose 8.4 percent during 2011. But there's something else surprising. Artists for years have feared that the model of letting consumers cherry-pick the tracks they like at the price of a buck or so per song would signal an end to fans buying whole albums.
That theory? Not so true. Full-length album sales actual role 19.5 percent. Overall, the music purchase market edged toward digital music by a margin of 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent for physical copies of singles and full albums. As a whole, between Jan. 3, 2011 and Jan. 3, 2012, music purchases in general increased 6.9 percent across all media. Interestingly enough, even vinyl sales rose 36 percent.
In terms of physical album sales, alternative music sales rose 2.4 percent, and the genre was the top-selling flavor of 2011, with categorized albums moving 55,032 units overall. Christian/Gospel music came in second, moving 23,734 units, according to Christian SoundScan. Those numbers were a two-percent reduction from 2010's numbers.
The two genres were once more Number-One and Number-Two in digital album sales, as well. Alternative releases moved 24,674 downloads, a 19.9 percent increase. Christian/Gospel album downloads totaled 4,781 downloads, a 20.4 rise.
As artists go, it wasn't an alternative or Christian artist that won the year. That would be Adele, whose album 21 was the year's top-selling physical and digital release. In addition, that album's top song, "Rolling In The Deep," was the top-selling physical and digital single.