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Music Sales Jump For Christmas

January 1, 2007

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Predictably, album sales rose substantially during the pre-Christmas week in the United States. Christmas landed on a Monday this year, opening a nice shopping weekend that aided CD sales.

In the week leading up to Christmas, the Top 200 albums sold a combined 13.1 million copies, a 42% increase over the previous high mark of the year, 9.2 million in the week ending Dec. 17, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The brisk pace is expected to continue during the next weeks as consumers hit the year-end sales and cash in the gift cards they received for Christmas.

However, total album sales of 105.3 million for the six-week period ended December 24 is still 4.1% down from 2005’s total of 109.8 million. And 2005 was considered the weakest holiday selling season in memory. But for the troubled music industry, flat sales are the new up for retailers.

In fact, music label executives may cheer the volume of purchases: when digital track, music video and singles sales are included, sales totaled 47.4 million units for Christmas week, according to SoundScan. That tops the prior best-week sales total of 46.5 million units, recorded during the Christmas week of 2000, the year that U.S. album sales peaked.

Even Amazon claimed it had its best holiday selling season ever, though it declined to release specific numbers. SoundScan reports that nontraditional merchants–which include catalog merchants and albums sold at concerts or through TV direct-marketing campaigns — enjoyed a 35.5% increase during the holiday.

One surprise this year was the superb performance of Christmas music. In fact, one major-label executive says, “If it weren’t for holiday music, everybody would be in the toilet.” Retail executives regularly cited Christmas albums by Taylor, McLachlan and Il Divo as showing up in their top 10 best-selling albums of the season.

However, digital sales are still not offsetting declines in the physical space. Using SoundScan’s album equivalency of 10 digital tracks sold — generous, considering a typical album has more — this year total album sales equaled 111.4 million units for the holiday selling period, still a 2.1% decline from last year’s equivalent total of 113.8 million.

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