Eminem's 'Recovery' was 2010's best-selling album: Good news or bad for the music industry?

EminemImage Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.comEminem‘s Recovery was the best-selling album of 2010, according to year-end figures released by Nielsen SoundScan. Recovery sold 3.42 million copies in the U.S. between Jan. 4, 2010 and Jan. 2, 2011, easily beating runners-up like Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now (3.09 million), Taylor Swift’s Speak Now (2.96 million), and Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0 (2.32 million).

Those numbers are obviously music to the ears of the labels that released those albums. But the rest of Nielsen SoundScan’s year-end report contains some less pleasing news for the industry as a whole. Album sales were down 12.7 percent in 2010, with a grand total of 326.2 million albums sold compared to 2009’s 373.9 million. That figure includes all physical formats (CDs, LPs, even cassettes), as well as digital albums sold via services like iTunes. The tally looks a little better if you also include “track equivalent albums,” which count groups of 10 track downloads as one album; using that metric, overall album sales in 2010 were down only 9.5 percent. Finally, if you count all individual digital track sales as well, plus music videos and CD singles, the percentage decline in overall music sales goes down to 2.4 percent.

Any way you slice it, though, one thing is clear: Americans still aren’t buying music like they used to. Digital album sales were actually up 13 percent, and digital track sales went up 1 percent, but that wasn’t nearly enough to counterbalance the ongoing downward slide in physical formats. And consider the fact that 2010’s best-selling album was by Eminem, an established SoundScan heavyweight from the good old days when albums still sold well. Eminem will probably always be a reliably big seller, but he’s only one man. It’s no knock against his hard-won success in 2010 to say that it doesn’t necessarily reflect a healthy music industry.

That said, there’s enough data in Nielsen SoundScan’s 2010 report to spin however you like. Here’s something more promising: Taylor Swift was 2010’s best-selling artist overall, moving 4.47 million copies of all her albums combined (beating Eminem’s 4.32 million). Her blockbuster sales can’t be explained as a holdover from another era. So cheer up! All she has to do now is get busy recording her next album so she can save the industry again in 2012.

What do you think 2010’s final sales tallies mean for the music business? Weigh in below.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com:
Eminem, Train top iTunes year-end charts
Taylor Swift’s Speak Now sells a million copies in a week

Comments (118 total) Add your comment
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  • Rolo Tomasi

    Nobody wants to buy a full album to get one good song with 9 crappy ones.

    • Ahhhh

      true! Taylor and eminem made an album that is worth buying. artists and labels should learn from that.

    • GN

      Plus so many people can’t get jobs. Less people can afford music, I’m one of them.

      • priscilla

        Eminem’s album was most definitely worth buying!! The whole thing was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Fog cue

      Downloading has made it easier to purchase the singles without plonking down the extra money on an album I may or may not like. I usually wait until 4 hit singles of an album before I even consider buying it.

  • alan of montreal

    perhaps the labels need to start actually taking the time to develop their artists and vary the sounds they put on the radio rather than relying on autotune and the same programmed drum beats and re-hashed melodies to fill the airwaves.

    • Candacetx

      @Alan – Amen! Exhibit A: Kesha

      (yeah, I refuse to type that dollar symbol in her name… hrumpf)

      • AX

        Ke$ha might not have the best voice, but she does know who to make good songs.

      • severine

        @AX
        Like “Dirty Picture” with Taio Cruz? FAIL.

    • Ahhhh

      true and teach their artist to at least learn how to play an instrument or write their own songs.

  • Bustin Jieber

    “Taylor Swift was 2010′s best-selling artist overall, moving 4.47 million copies of all her albums combined.”

    When a girl who can’t sing live and writes about what to wear to a school dance is the best selling artist, the music industry is in bad shape!

    • yournightmare

      i think your knowledge of her music is in bad shape,buddy.

      • u

        No, he’s pretty right on target.

      • Jonathan

        No, I agree with yournightmare; I don’t think she’s ever sang about what to wear to a dance, and did you see her performance on the AMA’s? Back to December was pretty amazing.

      • Candacetx

        he sounds on the money to me

      • Ahhhh

        omg bustin jeiber, you clearly don’t know what you are talking about

      • kanye west

        Beyonce had the best album of all time

      • noel

        @kanye west
        HAHAHA!!! good one, good reference :) lmao.
        bustin bieber is spot on, taylor swift is kinda terrible i’m not gonna lie. her songs are cute. and that’s about it. except for a select few that i actually like, but the rest are pretty juvenile and all sound the same.

    • Janelle

      I could not agree more Bustin Jieber

      • yournightmare

        why am i not surprised u? took you long enough…must be tough for you to see see her dominate the music industry. :) makes me happy to know you cry over it. :)

      • Ahhhh

        omg u,
        what’s up? where have you been? our ever loyal Taylor swift hater! LOL
        been a tough couple of months isn’t it, with Taylor ruling the charts and everything… HAHA

    • Ahhhh

      LOL bustin jeiber, you clearly didn’t see her live. she can certainly sing. and I don’t think there is a song about what to wear in a school dance that she wrote LOL she writes meaningful songs than that… oh yeah you don’t know cause you clearly haven’t researched her

    • Jonah

      I couldn’t agree more. When a complete joke like Swift is the top seller of the year, there’s no way to possibly put a good spin on it. Music today is a disgrace. And this generation has zero taste. It’s pathetic.

      • Yo

        yes most of the music today is trash but don’t include Taylor on that category. yes you don’t like her but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t loved by many.
        there’s more to her than the media portray her. she’s a real musician.
        once again you don’t like her but that doesn’t mean she sucks.

    • Liz

      I agree w u ;)

    • failor Swift

      Bustin Jieber. I agree. She cannot sing her own songs. She embarrasses herself every single time she gets on stage

      • Luke

        hold up dude! have you seen her concerts? you might eat all that you said LOL
        she puts an hell of a show and it’s worth every single penny we paid.

  • Bill

    Hmmm…maybe the public sees through talentless, auto-tuned “artists.” Also, when Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” album gets nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, we’re in serious frickin’ trouble.

    • Tony

      To be honest i rather have, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry now, than Britney spears and Jessica Simpson 10 years ago, ugh!

      • Duane

        Uh, I beg to differ. The sounds of britney and jessica esp britney would forecast the music we’re hearing today just updated for the times. The produce Max Martin is behind the 2000 pop era and the present. He works with everyone today from Katy Gaga Kesha and britney to this day.

      • Kelcie

        Max Martin has never worked with Gaga. But Duane’s right – especially in the case of Gaga, who has said she listened to Britney and Christina in her early teens, before listening to Bowie and metal in her late teens/early 20s.

      • Liz

        Lady gaga is freaking crazy but this girl can sing ;)

  • Rusty Shackelford

    Screw the music industry, they’ve been screwing the public for years.

  • John

    How about lowering prices on CDs? I have been waiting until new releases show up used or on yourmusic.com.

    • Kelcie

      Music will be cheaper when people stop stealing it.

      • GN

        Wrong, Kelcie. Back before any music downloading, albums were still around fifteen dollars for the new releases.

  • Stephanie

    lowering CD prices would help, but the trend is going to keep moving toward digital file sharing rather than a hard copy disc. I am somewhere in between; of the artists I really care about, nothing compares to having the album art and a physical item to collect, listen to or share. But the bulk of my new music discoveries are online and downloaded one or two tracks at a time. That is the reality. The music industry needs to figure out how to make itself relevant and provide what consumers want. That’s what they get paid millions of dollars for, so work at it and figure it out. Capitalism, baby!

    • Ahhhh

      you have a great point. with me I only buy albums that’s worth buying. like Taylor swift’s “speak now” album or any of her albums in that matter, she made the album worth buying. I mean from the physical cd, the lyrics, the songs and the art on the cover booklet… it’s worth buying.

      artist these days put 3 good songs on the album then put 9 crappy ones. I would not buy that album for sure

  • Me Too

    Album sales are no longer a good metric to measure success as a musician.

    Where are the figures for concerts & ticket sales?

    • Ahhhh

      that’s one part if it but your right figures and concert tickets too should measure the success of a musician.

      • Miss Talk

        In this case, Eminem wouldn’t make the list at all.

  • Clete

    When is Kanye West going to come out with his next album “I let a fart.”

    • the invisible c-nt

      …into this dumb butt ew commenter’s mouth

  • Mike

    I think people are ‘sharing’ music more than buying it.

    I don’t think talent has anything to do with it. There are plenty of great singers and bands out there.

  • larkwoodgirl

    I don’t buy music that much anymore, because it has mostly become so juvenile and repetetive that it is just not worth the money. Rap and hip hop (eminen excluded) are formats that I am personally sick of. The overall quality of the writing is poor. I want to listen to people who have something to say. I don’t want to hear the same song about going to da club and hanging with the hoes.

    • sade

      Not all Rap/Hip-Hop songs are about girls,money… that’s just what stupid kids like so it gets put on the radio.

    • u

      If you like Eminem, then hasn’t it occurred to you that there are other good rappers who rap about relevant things too? Good hip-hop still exists, you just have to look for it.

      • Kelcie

        “Good hip-hop still exists, you just have to look for it.”

        Yes – and this goes for all genres of music as well. I get so sick of people blaming “repetition” and subject matter too – what? Those ’80s hip hop beats didn’t have repetitions?

    • Maureen

      That’s so typical. Have you ever taken the time to search for other hip hop artists other than what plays on the radio? Stop assuming that ALL rap music is about the same thing. SMH.

      • Adil

        Strength: 2-2-1-1-1-1-1: 45,55,65,70,80,90,100Crossfit: 5 rounds + 5hpc+ 5pullupsSubbed nraetul grip and chins for pulls and 60 SUs for DUs.Wasnt feeling it today, still dying from the 105 pullups i did yesterday making up mondays cindy wod.

  • Phil

    One of the biggest problems NEVER MENTIONED in any article debating this topic is the minds behind the music. In recent years, yes, labels have slashed promotional funds and along with it, departments, but the remaining employees are for the most part, ancient dinosaurs. They THINK they’re hip and came hum along to the latest Ke$ha *SMASH* or can’t wait for you to hear Lady Gaga’s newest single! *BLEEDING SARCASM* Sadly this is where the changes need to take effect. I’m 32, and though I’d like to think I stay informed on all types of music, my tastes definitely are NOT the same of those teens with the disposable money to actually buy music from sites like iTunes. So imagine someone 10/15 years my elder pimping out the latest tunes from Rihanna, Katy, or Ke$ha to your local radio station and …well it becomes very clear how fish out of water that is. No one wants to ever be told to retire, but I’m sorry, part of the reason Taylor Swift is so successful when she obv. can’t sing live is, her label backs her cause she is a pretty blonde girl next door that a 50 some year old man doesn’t mind promoting, instead of a big-breasted rehab ready party girl. These are sad facts, but ultimately true. I’m sure I’ll catch hell for writing this (as usual) but for those of you unaware of how the industry works, this plays a VERY key part in it, and if you wanna complain, don’t start with the product, start with the people shilling the product.

    • sade

      That is true, but this happens in every industry a monopoly forms and they get to decide what goes, leading to less options in terms of the general public, as it is all about making money.

    • yournightmare

      very many legends in music history were not great singers. taylor swift is involved with everything in her career. that is a bad example to prove a point. produser, songwriter, designs her tour etc. grammy bigtime lovechild beyonce is a great singer, but does non of the above. does it make her a better artist? no way.

      • yournightmare

        producer

      • u

        I think it’s safe to say that those music legends that lacked vocal talent compensated by being great songwriters, something Taylor isn’t.

        And Beyonce can sing and perform live, and her songs are at least more listenable than that of Swift’s baby lyrics, so yes it makes her a better artist.

      • Jonathan

        Once again, yournightmare is correct. Taylor’s lyrics may not appeal to the cynics (I’ve noticed there’s a lot on these comments sections), but if Grammies and great to at least solid reviews of her albums don’t prove her legitimacy, then you haters are just ignorant.

      • u

        @ Jonathan:

        Milli Vanilli once won a Grammy. Your point?

    • u

      Everything you just said illustrates why major labels need to die. We shouldn’t overpaid, middle-aged record execs dictating our tastes.

      • yournightmare

        her lyrics are great…gtfo. you are a hate machine with no intelligence to back it up. kanye will never sck you off. please let it go.

      • u

        I think you’re the one hung up on Kanye, because at no point did I ever bring him up, nor does he have anything to do with this discussion. And you should be the one to talk about people having no intelligence, you act like a small child and throw a tantrum whenever someone says something you don’t agree with. Grow up.

      • yournightmare

        but how does she rack up all of these prestigious songwriter awards then? are you telling me industry insiders and specialists in that field never asked for your opinion? Oh no! :)

      • Phil

        Taylor’s lyrics aren’t that great…if you think they are then you need to take a step back. A successful song writer can write for ANYONE, not just themself, and Taylor’s tunes are always about some break up with a celebrity whom shall remain nameless. We ALL know the Jake G. break-up song is com ing now…I mean it gets old.
        I’ve said it before, Taylor NEVER EVER collaborates with any of her pop contemporaries because frankly I think as much as we ride Katy or Ke$ha, everyone knows they’re NOT that great live, whereas if you tried telling Taylor that, the smile would melt off her face from the venom she’d be choking back on. Her graciousness has never been properly tested other than by Kanye West, which YES, was totally out of line and inappropriate, and I hate to bring him up, but sadly, he is the only pop contemporary who has ever called Taylor out, and now look how many people hate him for it. She is horrible live, and again, you wanna think she is a brilliant song writer, then wait til she successfully writes a tune for someone else and a its a hit. You’re entitled to defend her, vbut stop acting like she is the most perfect singer around today…she ain’t.

      • Ahhhh

        phil,
        first of all Taylor doesn’t write only about boys, yes mainly is but haven’t you at least researched? she has songs about her friends, family, a friend who has an eating disorder, for her band, her fans … I will not list the name of the songs (research it..)
        secondly, her lyrics aren’t great? she has a style of writing that connects to her fans in no other musicians can. she writes about their feelings. and of course you don’t know that.
        thirdly,she wrote
        for other artists that became a hit. have you heard “the best days of your life” by kellie pickler???
        she cowrite that. and she’s a professional songwriter since she was 12 and her job is to write for other artists….. clearly she’s doing something right.

        and lastly, when you stated that kanye is a pop artist… that’s a sign that you check your facts first
        thank you

      • Phil

        @ahh I dont have to do much research, I have ALL of Taylor’s albums on my iPod, so when I say what I say, I’m not some callous jaded fan who is just coming at Taylor..I have given her a try. My ex bf LOVES her, and I actually really liked “Love Story” before it was even a pop hit.
        Now you do some research Kellie Pickler’s “The Best Day Of Your Life” was NOT a hit here in the U.S. Perhaps a country hit, but here in the U.s that don’t mean squat if you’re not a country fan. And thats why I specifically said pop contemporary…Kellie has NEVER had a pop hit, and Taylor can’t write for other pop artists, maybe a few country artists, but again, that is a very polarizing genre here in the U.S. big selling artists like Kenny Chesney has NEVER EVER had a pop hit. HUGE difference, which leads me to my next point. Kanye West is a hip-hop artist first, pop artists second. If a pop station in the U.S. plays both Taylor and Kanye, then yes, he qualifies as a mainstream pop artist, and since both artists have had multiple pop hits now (“Heartless”, “Gold Digger”, “Love Lockdown”, “It All Goes Down” for Kanye, “Mine”, “Love Story”, Fifteen”, “Today Was a Fairytale”, “Teardrops On My Guitar” for Ms. Swift) how you can’t understand that makes me question your love of pop music, in favor of over-adulation for Taylor Swift.
        I can’t stand when people try & come at me and say do your research, when clearly you should do your own. Thank you for attempting to contribute to the conversation, but sadly, you’re just another idiot with access to the internet.

      • u

        I’m not sure why EW won’t display my comment pointing out the FACT that Brandon Flowers and Beyonce have won prestigious songwriting awards, when neither were deserving of it as one is a terrible lyricist and the other doesn’t even write her own songs. So Taylor winning awards does not give her artistic credibility, awards never do so anyway.

      • Ahhh

        @phil calling me an idiot is kinda harsh don’t you think LOL (pls. listen to “mean” by Taylor LOL)…
        good for you on having all of her albums then you’d know she has songs about other things than boys.
        LOL and I’m not a so much fan of pop music LOL and how do you know that Taylor CANT write for other pop artists???? how??? she hasn’t even try to do so… don’t worry when he retires when she’s 60 she’s still be writing songs for other musicians while she’s living in her mansions on some tropical island.
        and yes I love Taylor swift but I can admit she isn’t perfect and that’s why I loved her because she’s just like us.

    • Ahhhh

      LOL phil, yes Taylor is a good girl but she has genuine talent to back it up. she isn’t just a pretty face.

      but I agree with you that 90 percent of the music today is over produced and crappy

      • yournightmare

        why does she have to be the one to write a pop hit? (she has written a few,though). how many mainstream pop artists even write their stuff? close to zero. rihanna “loud” album had nothing from her. grammy record breaker beyonce is not any different.
        so yes…it is very refreshing to have someone like taylor swift to actually write something that SHE goes through/experiences rather than singing something the overpaid songwriter gave her to sing. that makes her artist persona more believable. obviously looking at her sales, millions of people agree with me.
        her lyrics are not that sophisticated, but does she really need it now. she is writing her age. if she comes up with the same stuff, when she is 30…well, then you do have a point. btw…its not like most of the pop hits written by PROFESSIONALS have great lyrics, neither. That`s why they are pop hits in the first place- they are kept simple and tribal so that regular john/mary could relate.

  • Frank from MusicNerdClub.com

    Since there are few record stores remaining and big-box chains are increasingly reducing shelf space for CDs, digital channels alone (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) are not sufficient enough to sustain growth in the music industry.

  • nick

    come on. don’t use Eminem’s longevity against him. He sells well because he is awesome. Not because he has always sold well.

    • u

      But hasn’t he always been awesome?

  • R.M.

    The reason Eminem sales records is because he knows how to put 10+ good tracks on an album. Everyone else puts on three singles and the the rest is garbage. They really need to think the way Em and Dre think. I read they always ask themselves, “Would I buy this track.” And they stay with the engineers as the tweek the song. Other artists like 50 (who’s admitted it) goes in, records, and leaves. He doesn’t listen to who the engineers master the tapes. Other artists need to follow Eminem and Dr. Dre’s work style.

    • Phil

      Part of why Eminem had such a huge sales year is because he is now pushing 40, and folks in their 30’s and lower 40s are no longer afraid to admit they like Em, whereas when he came out 10 yrs ago, that wasnt very possible since he was always rapping from Shady’s perspective and killing Kim on every record. Fact is, Em got old, and is a parent so now parents actually admit to liking and buying his music…regardless of what engineer tinkered with what. Thats why he sold the most this year.

      • tuesc

        I don’t know your Americans’ thinking when you buy a record.We buy it just because we like it, we rarely think about the value that the songs trying to send.

      • Ahhhh

        LOL i’m not even American but I think it’s just right for them to buy music that has meaning not just that over produced songs that you often hear from the radio.
        I’m happy that at least people care about the quality of the songs that should be put out instead of the crappy over produced repetitive songs most music that are out these days.

      • lady(pil)

        PHIL : No way!vno way. parents buy susan boyle & jackie evancho cds. they dont buy em ‘s cd.

        em’s has successful sales bc he has the young ppl of all ethnicities–afrAm, anglo, indo, asian- buying his cds, as well s young adults(those who were 13-18 10yrs ago are now 23-28).

        still he wont sell like he did 10yrs ago
        [slim shady sold 5mill;
        marshall mathers sold 10mill; eminem sold 9mill
        encore sold 7mill
        relaps sold 2mill]

        bc ppl are just d/l the cd for free.

      • Phil

        @lady(pil) When I said parents are now buying Eminem’s record (sorry yours aren’t) I mean folks that are now parents and were as you said fans of his when they were teens, but Em made a very strong market when he debuted with guys in their 20’s (like myself) who have now grown up with him, along with all his fans of all races, creeds and colors. Thats what I meant by that statment, that that added group of ‘older’ folks bought his record, and shouldn’t be thought of as buying Susan Boyle cds, but then again I dunno how your folks are.

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