Over Before Christmas

Although 1 billion tracks are illegally downloaded each year, single sales in the U.K. have already passed last year’s record.

British Phonographic Industry chief exec Geoff Taylor says the market could “explode” if the government acts to tackle illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing.

Figures published by the BPI show this year’s sales have topped 117 million, surpassing last year’s previous all-time record of 115.1 million.

Data from the Official Charts Company shows the new record was set with 10 weeks of trading – including the vital Christmas period – still to run in 2009.

“We’ve witnessed an astonishing transformation of the U.K. singles market during the last six years, with digital downloads rapidly overtaking sales of CD singles and cassettes to dominate the singles scene,” said Taylor.

“That singles have hit these heights while there are still more than a billion illegal downloads every year in the U.K. is testimony to the quality of releases this year and the vibrancy of the U.K. download market”.

He said consumers are responding to “the value and innovation” offered by legal download services and the new figures show that the market could explode if the government acts to tackle illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing.

Unlike the albums market, which is overwhelmingly dominated by CD sales, the U.K. Top 40 is now almost entirely made up of digital singles. During this year, 98.6 percent of all singles have been retailed in digital formats.

More than 389.2 million single-track downloads have now been sold in the U.K. since the launch of the first mainstream online stores in 2004.

The bestselling singles for 2009 so far are “Poker Face” and “Just Dance,” both by Lady Gaga, followed by Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” La Roux’s “In For The Kill” and “Boom Boom Pow,” also by Black Eyed Peas.