Crunching 2009 Music Sales Figures

The Nielsen Company has released its 2009 numbers, bringing good news and bad to the music biz.

The report draws numbers from three Nielsen operations – Nielsen SoundScan for music purchases, Nielsen BDS for tracking radio, TV and Internet airplay and Nielsen RingScan, tracker of ringtones.

Photo: AP Photo
Performing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Swift’s Fearless was the top selling album of 2009.

The good news? Overall music sales in the U.S. (albums, singles, music videos, digital tracks), experienced a 2.1 percent upward bump with 1.55 billion sold in 2009 compared with 1.51 billion in 2008, making 2009 the second consecutive year music sales exceeded 1.5 billion.

However, total album sales, including CDs, cassettes, vinyl and digital albums, dropped 12.7 percent with nearly 374 million sold compared with 2008’s 428.4 million figure.

Overall album sales – all albums including track equivalent albums – also fell as music fans purchased 489.8 million in 2009. Compare that figure to 2008 when consumers purchased 535.4 million and you’ll find an 8.5 percent decrease in sales.

But while total and overall album sales fell, digital tracks rose with 1.16 billion sold in 2009 – an 8.3 percent rise over 2008’s 1.07 billion.

Digital albums also received a hefty bump, finishing 2009 with 76.4 million units sold compared with 65.8 million the previous year, resulting in a 16.1 percent change for the better.

Photo: AP Photo
Arriving in Japan.  Her I Dreamed A Dream is the best selling album released in 2009.

And there’s good news for vinyl advocates as sales of 12-inchers broke a Nielsen SoundScan record by climbing 33 percent with 2.5 million units moving in 2009 compared with 1.88 million in 2008. Nielsen notes that, similar to last year, two out of every three vinyl purchases were made at indie record stores.

On the other hand Internet albums – sales of physical albums purchased online – dropped 8 percent with 2009 finishing with 25.3 million sold in contrast with 2008 when music consumers purchased 27.5 units then sat back and waited for the music to arrive via snail-mail.

What to make of the latest Nielsen Company stats? As industry watchers have predicted, digital sales continue to rise while purchases of physical albums decline.

Other year-end figures worth noting:

Taylor Swift’s Fearless finished 2009 at the top of Nielsen’s Top Ten Selling Albums, followed by Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed A Dream and Michael Jackson’s Number Ones. Fame by Lady Gaga came in fourth. However, Swift’s Fearless was released the previous year, while Boyle’s album came out in 2009. This means that, although Swift’s album is the No. 1 selling album of the year, Boyle’s I Dreamed A Dream was the No. 1 best seller of all albums released in 2009.

Photo: Erika Goldring /
UNO Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, La.

When it comes to the Top Ten Selling Artists for 2009, Nielsen places Michael Jackson on top, followed by Taylor Swift, The Beatles, Susan Boyle and Lady Gaga.

However, Gaga dominated the Top Ten Selling Digital Artists list, followed by The Black Eyed Peas, Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.

And the Top Mastertones (ringtones) of the year? First place went to Soullja Boy Tell’em for “Kiss Me Thru The Phone.” In second place is “Blame It” featuring T-Pain and Jamie Foxx; third is “Dead and Gone” featuring Justin Timberlake and T.I.; fourth is “Day N Nite” by Kid Cudi and fifth is “Boom Boom Pow” by The Black Eyed Peas.

The Nielsen Company also released numbers for what it calls the “SoundScan Era (July 2004 to the present marking the time the company tracked digital music sales) listing Garth Brooks at No. 1 on its Top Ten Selling Artists list followed by The Beatles and Mariah Carey.

Nielsen also compiled stats for the past ten years. The Top Ten Selling Artists of the decade were Eminem followed by The Beatles, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Britney Spears. The Top Ten Most Played Artists list has Tim McGraw on top followed by Toby Keith, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Nickelback.

Photo: AP Photo
Ups the excitement level at the CMAs in Nashville.

Yes, there’s a lot to read and digest in The Nielsen Company’s annual report, including the Top Ten Selling Digital Tracks, Top Ten Vinyl Artists, Top Ten Selling Digital Albums and Top Ten Seasonal Albums. To experience Nielsen’s latest data masterpiece in all its numeric glory, just click here.