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2010 British Album Sales Down 7%, Digital Up 30%

Album sales fell by seven percent in Britain last year, despite a 30 percent jump in the number of digital albums purchased, industry lobby group the BPI said on Wednesday.

The figures compiled by the Official Charts Company extend the trend of recent years, where the sharp rise in legally downloaded music has failed to arrest the overall decline in an industry struggling with online piracy.

Digital and physical album sales reached 119.9 million in 2010, down 7.0 percent from 128.9 million in 2009 and compared with 154.7 million in 2006.

Of that total, 21 million units were sold in the digital format last year, a 17.5 percent market share and an increase of 30.6 percent on 2009.

CD sales slumped 12.4 percent, however, to 98.5 million versus over 150 million in 2006.

The singles market hit a record high of 161.8 million units sold in 2010, up 5.9 percent on the previous year. Of the total, 98 percent of singles purchased were in the digital format.

“However encouraging it is to see the digital market grow … legal downloads are unable to offset the decline in CD sales because they are dwarfed by illegal competition,” said Geoff Taylor, BPI chief executive.

“Meaningful action to tackle illegal downloading remains absolutely critical if we are to stabilize British music sales, let alone return to growth. Without it, investment in new digital services and in British musical talent will begin to dry up.”

On the retail level, music, books, DVDs and games group HMV announced on Wednesday that its sales in the five weeks to January 1 dropped sharply and that it would sell or close around 60 British stores over the next year.

Take That’s “Progress” was Britain’s top-selling album last year, moving more than 1.8 million copies, while Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” featuring Rihanna, was the most popular single with sales of 854,000.

Universal Music, the world’s biggest label, had six of the top 10 best selling artist albums in Britain in 2010, followed by Warner Music with three and Sony Music with one.