It's been a bleak decade for the American recording industry, with sales dipping nearly every year since the pop explosion lead by 'NSYNC, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. But there was finally a sliver of good news this week when the Recording Industry Association of America announced that total U.S. music sales grew in 2011 for the first time since 2004.
Don't get too crazy: Sales were only up 0.2 percent to just more than $7 billion. But to an industry that has been moving in the wrong direction for the past seven years, it was reason enough to celebrate.
It was a good news/bad news situation, though, as physical sales, which are mostly made up of CDs, were down by 7.7 percent. That was a narrower dip than in recent years but a dip nonetheless. That was more than made up, though, by a 9.2 percent rise in digital sales, which made up more than half of the industry's revenues for the first time in history.
Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney can complain all he wants, but the amount of cash being made from subscription services like Spotify, MOG and Rhapsody was up nearly 14 percent to $241 million, with total subscribers growing by 300,000 to 1.8 million.
In a year when Adele became the first artist to go double-platinum on iTunes — while her massive breakthrough, 21, helped goose digital and physical sales numbers by collectively topping more than 8 million in 2011 — digital sales were huge. Both unit sales (105 million) and revenue ($1 billion) were up more than 20 percent. Single downloads were up nearly 11 percent to 1.3 million.
And even as downloads gained ground on physical CD sales (more than 240 million sold, totaling $3.1 billion), the kids were still digging that old-school vinyl. Sales of records and revenue from that category were both up more than 30 percent to $119 million and 5.5 million copies.