Country Album Sales Dropped 16.3 Percent in 2007

Eagles, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts Among Year's Top Sellers

Country albums in 2007 suffered a 16.3 percent dip in sales from those of a year before, falling from almost 75 million copies to just under 63 million, according to the annual compilation from Nielsen SoundScan.

It was the same bleak story in different shades of red for albums in all the other musical formats. Rap was down 30 percent, alternative 19 percent, rock 12 percent and Latin nearly 16 percent. Christian-gospel, classical, jazz, metal, new age, rhythm & blues and soundtracks all suffered substantial declines.

It was quite a good year, though, for the Eagles, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and a few other country acts. The Eagles had the third highest-selling album last year with Long Road Out of Eden, which moved 2,608,000 copies past cash registers. Swift’s self-titled collection came in at No. 9 with sales of 1,951,000. The bestselling CD was Josh Groban’s Noel at 3,699,000 units.

Overall music sales — which include albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks — took a 14 percent leap over those of 2006, jumping from 1,198,000,000 to 1,369,000,000. This is the third consecutive year that the total has topped 1 billion units.

Four country acts were among the Top 10 bestselling artists: the Eagles at No. 3 (with total album sales of over 3.5 million units), Underwood at No. 4 (just over 3.2 million), Rascal Flatts at No. 5 (3.1 million) and Tim McGraw at No. 10 (almost 2.4 million). Again, Groban led the pack with a total of more than 4.8 million.

No country music or acts appeared among the Top 10 bestselling digital songs, digital artists, digital tracks or digital albums.

Country fared well, however, within the list of the Top 10 bestselling artists and albums during the SoundScan era, a period that began in 1991 and is based on actual instead of estimated retail sales. Garth Brooks is the No. 1 artist of the era, boasting total sales of more than 67 million albums. George Strait came in at No. 6 (39 million), McGraw at No. 7 (36 million), Alan Jackson at No. 8 (35 million) and Shania Twain at No. 10 (33 million).

Twain’s Come on Over maintained its hold as the bestselling album of the SoundScan era at almost 15.5 million copies.

Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems (BDS), which monitors radio airplay, reports that Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” was the sixth most played song of 2007 in the United States, racking up a total of 346,169 detections. It was the only country song to make the list. (Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” came in at No. 1 with 380,742 plays.)

Country acts accounted for seven of the Top 10 most played artists, which takes into account all titles played. Nickelback was No. 1, followed by Rascal Flatts (No. 2), Kenny Chesney (No. 4), Toby Keith (No. 5), McGraw (No. 6), Strait (No. 7), Underwood (No. 9) and Keith Urban (No. 10).

Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” ranked No. 2 among the Top 10 songs streamed on the Internet. With 10,554,700 streams, Underwood is the only country act to make this list. Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable (Irreemplazable)” came at No. 1 with 11,002,278 streams.

There were also no country songs among the Top 10 mastertones (snippets of actual master recordings for mobile phone rings), as measured by Nielsen RingScan. Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts The Most” was the only country song to make the Top 10 polyphonic ringtones, where it ranked No. 6.

The percentage of albums sold through chain record stores continued to decline in 2007, slipping for the first time to below 40 percent. Mass-merchant (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.) album sales dropped from 41 percent to 40 percent. Twenty percent of the total album sales in 2007 were made during the last six weeks of the year.

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