Country Album Sales Sag Slightly in 2006

But Rascal Flatts and Johnny Cash Are the Nation's Bestselling Acts

Elevator going down. Slightly, anyway.

Country album sales for 2006 decreased 0.5 percent — or about 441,000 units — from the total number sold in 2005, according to the latest sales summary from Nielsen SoundScan, the company that monitors point-of-purchase transactions. This is the second year in a row that country sales have slipped, although the figures do not reflect Garth Brooks’ CDs which are now sold exclusively by Wal-Mart and are not reported to SoundScan.

On the bright side, overall music sales — which include albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks — jumped by 19.4 percent, from just over 1 billion units in 2005 to almost 1.2 billion in 2006. Overall album sales sagged slightly, though, from 654.1 million to 646.4 million.

Country music reached its high point in retail sales in 2004 when 77,912,000 albums crossed the scanners.

Within country’s shrinking parameters, several acts did extremely well. Rascal Flatts emerged as the bestselling album artist among all genres last year, compiling a total of 4,970,640 units sold. The trio’s newest album, Me and My Gang, was the second bestselling CD of the year (at 3,479,994 copies), just behind the High School Musical soundtrack (3,719,071).

Two other country albums made the Top 10 list for 2006. Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts, which has sold 4,586,750 copies since its release in November 2005, landed in third place with 3,015,950 copies sold in 2006. The Dixie Chicks’ Taking the Long Way sold 1,856,284 units to show up in ninth place.

Rascal Flatts were also the No. 1 digital artist of the year, scoring a total of 3,792,277 downloaded tracks. Me and My Gang was the 10th bestselling digital album with 105,808 copies downloaded. It was marginally outstripped by Taking the Long Way which checked in at No. 8 with 122,075 units sold.

Propelled by a multiplicity of titles, Johnny Cash was the second bestselling album artist of 2006, racking up total sales of 4,826,320. Other country acts among the Top 10 artists were Carrie Underwood (No. 4), Tim McGraw (at No. 6 with sales of 2,657,675) and Keith Urban (No. 9 with sales of 2,442,577).

Types of music showing an increase were Christian/gospel (up 1.3 percent), classical (22.5 percent), Latin (5.2 percent) and soundtracks (18.9 percent).

Compared to country, several other categories logged much more significant sales decreases for the year. Among them are alternative (down 9.2 percent), jazz (8.3 percent), metal (4.5 percent), new age (22.7 percent), rhythm & blues (18.4 percent) and rap (20.7 percent).

Digital album sales registered a dramatic increase, soaring 101 percent — from 16.2 million to 32.6 million. Internet album sales were up 19 percent — from 24.7 million to 29.4 million.

No country artists or music showed up in Nielsen SoundScan’s tally of the bestselling digital tracks or digital songs.

Shania Twain continues to hold the record for having the bestselling album of the SoundScan Era, which dates back to 1991. Her Come on Over has now sold 15,408,533 copies. No other country albums are among the Top 10 of the overall bestsellers.

In an addendum to the sales report, Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, which computer-monitors radio airplay, revealed that six country acts were among the Top 10 airplay artists in 2006. They are Toby Keith (at No. 3 with 741,791 plays detected); Rascal Flatts (No. 4 with 732,150); Tim McGraw (No. 5 with 722,074); Kenny Chesney (No. 6 with 715,427), George Strait (No. 7 with 657,490) and Keith Urban (No. 8 with 644,769). With a total of 874,304 spins, Nickelback was No. 1 in the category.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to