Country Album Sales Drop 5 Percent in 2010, Rap Increases 3 Percent

Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum Are All-Genre Champs

Sales of country music albums dropped 5 percent in 2010 from those of the year before — sagging from 46,130,000 units to 43,718,000.

But the good news is that country boasted three of the year’s 10 best-selling artists with Taylor Swift coming in at No. 1 (on combined sales of 4,470,000 albums), Lady Antebellum at No. 3 (3,848,000) and the Zac Brown Band at No. 9 (1,824,000).

Lady A’s Need You Now, released last January, was the second highest-selling album of 2010, moving 3,089,000 copies. Swift’s Speak Now, released in October, came in third with 2,960,000. Eminem’s Recovery, which came out in June, topped the list with 3,415, 000 units sold.

These totals were announced Wednesday (Jan. 5) by the Nielsen Company’s SoundScan and BDS monitoring services, both of which are sources of the Billboard charts.

Overall music sales — including albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks — fell 2.4 percent, from 1,545,000,000 to 1,507,000,000.

Of all the musical genres, only rap experienced an increase in sales, rising 3 percent from 26,441,000 to 27,328,000 units. Alternative was down 21 percent, Christian/Gospel 13 percent, classical 26 percent, jazz 25 percent, Latin 25 percent, metal 16 percent, new age 29 percent, R&B 17 percent, rock 16 percent and soundtrack 14 percent.

“Need You Now” was the 10th best-selling digital song, accounting for 3,182,000 downloads. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” featuring Snoop Dogg, took the No. 1 spot with 4,398,000.

Speak Now was No. 2 on the best-selling digital albums ranking with 488,000 copies moved. Need You Now sold 382,000 copies to take the No. 4 spot. Recovery seized the No. 1 slot with 852,000.

Speak Now was also the top-selling Internet album via 185,400 units sold. Need You Now hit No. 4 in this category with 103,200.

In the category of physical albums (CDs, cassettes, vinyl), Need You Now ranked No. 1 (2,707,000) and Speak Now No. 3 (2,473,000).

Swift’s songs had more airplay than any other artist in all genres. Lady Antebellum stood at No. 2 and Kenny Chesney at No. 9.

“Need You Now” was the most played song of the year in all genres.

In 1991, Billboard adopted the SoundScan system for monitoring album sales. That system based its counts on albums actually scanned for purchase at record store cash registers. Country artists are among the top sellers of the SoundScan era.

According to this latest report, Garth Brooks ranks No. 1 in this era with total albums sales of 68,513,000. George Strait ranks sixth (42,396,000), Tim McGraw eighth (39,396,000) and Alan Jackson ninth (38,275,000).

Shania Twain’s Come On Over was the second best-selling album of this period with 15,499,000 units scanned. Metallica’s Metallica topped the list at 15,620,000.

Since SoundScan began monitoring digital sales in July 2004, Swift has emerged as the best-selling digital artist — and the only country one on the list — with 34,269,000 digital tracks sold. Her “Love Story” now ranks as the 10th best-selling digital song (4,853,000).

Swift’s Fearless and Speak Now are the fourth and eighth best-selling digital albums with sales of 700,000 and 488,000 copies, respectively.

The report notes that digital music accounted for 46 percent of all music bought in 2010, up from 40 percent in 2009 and 32 percent in 2008.

Finally, SoundScan reports that 33 percent of all albums were purchased in such mass market stores as Walmart and Target; 26 percent through such digital services as i-Tunes, Amazonmp3 and Emusic; 23 percent at chain stores such as Best Buy; 8 percent through independent music stores; and 7 percent through such e-commerce retailers as Amazon.

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