The music biz can't stem the bleeding, but, for now, digital tracks are proving to be a secure band-aid. Album sales dropped for a seventh consecutive year, but a dramatic increase in the sale of digital tracks helped keep the music industry afloat in 2006.

588.2 million album units sold last year, a 4.9% drop, while 581.9 million digital tracks were purchased by consumers -- a 65% increase from 2005's 352.7 million sold. Nielsen SoundScan, which released the figures Thursday, counts a block of 10 tracks sold as an album.

Digital continue to make inroads as the number of albums sold as downloads doubled from 2005. Current albums represented 18.6 million units sold, a rise of 93.7%; 14 million catalog albums were scanned, a 108.9% spike; and 9.8 million deep catalog albums were downloaded, a 104.2% rise.

Digital albums represent 5.5% of all albums sold. Warner Music continued to build on its digital marketshare, rising 1.72% to 23.29% of the digital album universe. UMG is at 27.4% of all digital album sales; Sony BMG has 24% of the market; and EMI comes in at 10%.

Sales of current physical albums came in at 363.9 million, a 6.5% drop from '05. Catalog was down 8.1% -- 210.2 million sold -- and deep catalog was at 148.4 million, a 2.8% dip.

As for genres, classical and soundtracks saw considerable bumps, rising 22.5% and 18.9% respectively. Country was flat and Christian/gospel rose 1.3%. The biggest selling genre is rock at 170.1 million albums sold, but the genre was not tracked in 2005. R&B, at 117 million units sold, took a big hit, dropping 18.4 from the previous year.

Year's data from Nielsen SoundScan revealed that customers are not going to record stores like they used to. Chain stores were down to 41% of all sales, down from 48% just two years ago. Indie music stores account for 6% of all sales, down from 7% last year and 9% in '04.

On the other hand, non-traditional merchants - online services, TV, kiosks at concert venues - saw their sales grow 44% to 69.3 million. Mass merchant outlets -- like Wal-Mart and Target -- accounted for 40% of all sales, up 1% from '05 but 7% from 2002.

As has been the case for the last two years, 20% of all sales occurred during the last six weeks of the year.
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