Country Albums Sales Down Again Slightly in 2009

Still, Taylor Swift's Fearless Reigned as the Year's Top Album

And the dip goes on.

Total album sales in the U. S. dipped from 428 million in 2008 to 373 million in 2009, according to year-end sales totals compiled by Nielsen SoundScan. This amounts to a decrease of 12.7 percent.

Country album sales also suffered, sliding from nearly 48 million copies to just over 46 million. With this 3.2-percent shrinkage, however, country fared much better than every other format except jazz, which receded a mere 0.1 percent. Among the declines in other genres: alternative rock (15.7 percent), Christian-gospel (6.6 percent), classical (8.9 percent), Latin (34.3 percent), metal (23.3 percent), new age (20 percent), R&B, 9.3 percent), rap (20.9 percent), rock (11.1 percent) and soundtracks (8.9 percent).

Overall music sales — which count all physical and digital configurations (including music videos) — were up 2.1 percent to 1.54 billion units in 2009.

The music industry’s guardian angel, of course, was Taylor Swift. She was second only to Michael Jackson on the 2009 list of best-selling artists, and her Fearless was the year’s best-selling album, moving 3,217,000 units.

Jackson, whose sales were spurred last year by his sudden death, sold a total of 8,286,000 albums, while 4,643,000 of Swift’s albums moved across the scanners.

Carrie Underwood was the ninth best-selling artist of the year, accounting for 1,895,000 purchases.

No matter how and where the pie was sliced, Swift seemed to get her share. She was the fourth best-selling digital artist, and Fearless was the fourth top-selling digital album. Fearless was also the third best-selling CD during the 2009 holiday buying season, beaten out only by Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed a Dream and Andrea Bocelli’s My Christmas.

Swift’s The Holiday Collection was the third best-selling seasonal album, racking up 445,000 copies. Sugarland‘s Gold and Green came in at fifth place with sales of 256,000.

In addition, Fearless was the third highest selling Internet album of 2009.

Swift scored big as well when it came to airplay. By Nielsen’s Broadcast Data System’s count, her “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” were the first and second most played songs, respectively, on the radio in 2009. No other country song made the Top 10 list.

Swift was the No. 1 airplay artist of the year, followed, in order, by Beyoncé and Black Eyed Peas. Toby Keith clocked in at No. 4, with Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw winning the No. 9 and No. 10 spots.

“You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” ranked No. 1 and No. 6 on the BDS tally of the Top 10 songs streamed on the Internet.

Nielsen SoundScan also enumerated its top sellers of the 2000-2009 decade — and country came off well here, too. Among the Top 10 best-selling artists, McGraw came in third (after Eminem and the Beatles) with sales of 24,769,000 albums. Keith was No. 4 (24,469,000) and Kenny Chesney No. 6 (22,034,000).

McGraw was the decade’s most-played artist, accumulating 7,965,000 spins. Country artists dominated this category, with Keith (No. 2), George Strait (No. 3), Alan Jackson (No. 4), Chesney (No. 6), Rascal Flatts (No. 7), Brooks & Dunn (No. 8) and Garth Brooks (No. 9). The only non-country acts were Nickelback (No. 5) and Green Day (No. 10).

Faith Hill had two of the decade’s 10 most-played songs — “Breathe” (No. 4) and “The Way You Love Me” (No. 6). Lee Ann Womack‘s “I Hope You Dance” was No. 7.

The remaining most played songs were Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” (No. 1), Train’s “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” (No. 2), Lifehouse’s “Hanging by a Moment” (No. 3), 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” (No. 5), the Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” (No. 8), Santana’s “Smooth,” featuring Rob Thomas (No. 9) and Hoobastank’s “The Reason” No. 10.

Kid Rock‘s “All Summer Long” and Jason Aldean‘s “Big Green Tractor” made Nielsen RingScan’s Top 10 mastertones of 2009. (A mastertone is a ringtone excerpted from the original hit recording). “All Summer Long” sold 672,000 copies to come in at No. 6, and “Big Green Tractor” sold 611,000 to win the No. 10 rank. Soullja Boy’s “Kiss Me Thru the Phone” was No. 1 with downloads of 1,289,000.

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