Adele leads record industry to sales increase in 2011

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Adele's "21" sold a staggering 5.8 million units in 2011, the most since Usher's "Confessions" sold 8 million in 2004.

Adele dominated the record industry in 2011, helping to push music purchases to their first overall increase since 2004 as digital sales outpaced physical products for the first time.

Overall music sales jumped nearly 7 percent to a record 1.6 billion units in 2011, according to a year-end report from Nielsen SoundScan. Adele led the way: Her second LP, “21,” was the top-selling album of 2011, moving more than 5.8 million units — a staggering number that far outpaced the No. 2 finisher, Michael Bublé’s “Christmas,” which accounted for 2.5 million units.

Adele was also the top-selling artist, with 6.7 million units — more than twice the 3.3 million posted by No. 2, Justin Bieber.

In addition, “21” was the top-selling digital album (1.8 million), and the English singer’s “Rolling in the Deep” was the top-selling digital song at 5.8 million units.

Several genres, including rap and R&B, put the brakes on what had been precipitous declines in previous years with small increases in sales, while jazz, new age and electronic music posted gains of 26 percent, 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

Sales of vinyl LPs continued to rise in 2011, moving 3.9 million units — an increase of 1.1 million over 2010, and the most ever since SoundScan began keeping track in 1991. Independent music stores sold 67 percent of those vinyl LPs, including 64,000 albums by Radiohead (the top-selling vinyl artist) and 41,000 copies of the Beatles‘ “Abbey Road” (the top-selling vinyl album).

News wasn’t as good for CDs, which declined 5.7 percent to sales of 223.5 million.

Garth Brooks remains the top-selling artist of the SoundScan era with sales of 68.5 million units. The Beatles, if you’re wondering, are No. 2, with sales of 63 million. The top-selling album of the SoundScan era is Metallica’s self-titled 1991 release (aka “the black album”), with sales of 15.7 million units. Shania Twain is hot on their heels, though: “Come On Over” has sold 15.5 million.

And here’s a jaw-dropping statistic: there were 76,875 albums released in 2011, according to Nielsen SoundScan’s calculations, compared to 75,159 in 2010. That’s a lot of music.

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