Eminem‘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.
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