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Music Sales Boom but Albums Fizzle For '08

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Americans bought more music in 2008 than ever before, but album sales the music industry's main source of revenue dropped for a fourth year.

According to the Nielsen Co.'s year-end figures, music purchases CD, vinyl, cassette and digital purchases of entire albums (grouped together as total albums), plus digital track downloads, singles and music videos attained a new high of 1.5 billion, up 10.5% over 2007.

More than 70% of those transactions were digital track downloads, a record total of 1.07 billion that swamped 2007's previous high of 844.2 million by 27%. Last week's track downloads set a record of 47.7 million, and 71 songs exceeded 1 million downloads this year, compared with 41 last year (and just two in 2005). Track downloads outsold albums by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

Total album sales dropped to 428.4 million, 14% fewer than in 2007, and have fallen 45% since 2000. Even combining album and track sales (by a formula that counts 10 track downloads as one album sale), the 535.4 million total is still down 8.5% from 2007 and more than 30% below 2000's physical album sales of 785.1 million.

Music purchases are “astronomically high," says Rob Sisco, Nielsen's president of music, “but it's a marketplace in transition from physical to digital." He sees promise in the rise of digital purchases of entire albums, which reached a high of 65.8 million in 2008. New albums by big acts bring the market up, he says, but “there hasn't been a steady stream of high-profile releases." Other '08 results:

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