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US music sales grew in 2012 as digital singles propped up physical media's decline

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Digital music rights
Digital music rights

While there's no doubt that the music industry is one that continues to be in flux, Nielsen just announced that US music sales managed to grow 3.1 percent on the back of strong digital music sales. Despite a growing number of legal alternatives to purchasing digital music, Nielsen found that digital album sales increased 14 percent in 2012 to reach 118 million units — that's good for 37 percent of all albums sold. That's up from last year, when digital album sales accounted for 31 percent of all music sales. Still, that growth in digital album sales wasn't enough to offset the 12.8 percent decline in physical album sales — and since physical sales still account for the majority of all music sold, overall album sales dropped 4.4 percent year-over-year.

Fortunately for the music industry, strong digital single sales helped prop up the decline in album sales, letting the industry tout that 3.1 percent increase. Sales of single digital tracks were up 5.1 percent and reached a whopping 1.3 billion, a figure that Nielsen says is a SoundScan sales record. Oddly enough, one of the oldest physical media sale continued its minor resurgence — Nielsen says that vinyl album sales grew 17.7 percent to reach 4.6 million units. Of course, that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the CD and digital sales. Unfortunately, Nielsen still hasn't revealed how digital streaming services like Rdio and Spotify compare to the traditional purchase model, but given the relatively low subscriber numbers, we're guessing they are still a small part of the whole music industry picture.