Country Album Sales Dipped Slightly in 2011, but Overall CD Sales Up for First Time Since 2004

Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift Post High Scores

Total country album sales dipped 1.8 percent in 2011 from their 2010 level, according to a report released Wednesday (Jan. 4) by Nielsen SoundScan, the company that monitors retail record sales and on whose figures the Billboard sales charts are based.

In raw figures, this was a slide from 43,718,000 albums to 42,923,000. The situation was worse last year when country fell 5 percent.

Overall, however, total album sales in all musical formats increased 1.3 percent over the previous year — up from 326.2 million to 330.6 million. This is the first time since 2004 that a current year outsold a previous year in this broad category.

Cheerier still is the fact that overall recorded music sales — which covers not just albums, but also singles, digital tracks and music videos — vaulted from 1,507 million to 1,611 million units, a jump of 6.9 percent.

Figures are not yet in for the Top 10 best-selling digital artists of the year.

Country wasn’t the only format that lost sales. Also down were Christian/gospel (by 2 percent), Latin (4.3 percent), metal (1.1 percent), R&B (4.2) and soundtracks (19.4 percent).

Jazz experienced the biggest increase: 26.2 percent, followed by new age (16.2 percent), electronic (15 percent), classical (6.8 percent), rap (3.4 percent), alternative (2.4 percent) and rock (1.9 percent).

Rock was the biggest-selling format, sending 105,685,000 albums across the scanners.

Dismal as the year may have been for the country music industry as a whole, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean had plenty of sales to celebrate.

Lady A’s Own the Night sold 1,204,000 copies, making it the 10th best-selling album of the year in all formats. It was the only country album to make the ranking. (Adele’s 21 topped the list with sales of 5,824,000 copies.)

All three of the above-cited country artists made the Top 10 list of best-selling artists for 2010. This category counts all album titles by an artist sold within the year.

Lady A came in sixth with 2,180,000 sold, Aldean eighth (1,884,000) and Swift ninth (1,847,000). (Again, Adele wore the crown with 6,744,000 units sold.)

During the holiday buying season, which SoundScan measured from Nov. 7, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2012, Lady A’s Own the Night was the only country album to make the Top 10.

In the Top 10 physical album sales — which include cassette, CD and vinyl copies but not digital ones — Aldean’s My Kinda Party ranked third, Own the Night seventh and Swift’s Speak Now 10th.

Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling digital country song of the year with a total of 2,575,000 downloads.

No country single made the Top 10 most-played songs of the year list, according to Nielsen BDS, which monitors airplay. However, Swift and Lady A ranked seventh and ninth, respectively, among the Top 10 most-played artists.

In addition to compiling music sales for the past year, the Nielsen SoundScan report also cites major achievements by artists during what it calls the “Nielsen SoundScan Era,” a period that runs from 1991, when the technology was first launched, until the present.

Country measures up well here, too. Garth Brooks is far and away the top artist of this era with 68,561,000 albums sold, better than 5 million more albums than the second-place Beatles.

George Strait is sixth on the list (43,310,000), Tim McGraw eighth (40,169,000) and Alan Jackson ninth (38,860,000).

Among the Top 10 best-selling albums of the era, Shania Twain ranks second with Come on Over, which has now moved 15,513,00 copies. She is the only country artist on the list and is outstripped only slightly by Metallica’s self-titled album, which now totals 15,735,000 copies sold.

Swift has two of the Top 10 best-selling digital albums of the era: Fearless (No. 7 with 785,000 copies sold) and Speak Now (No. 10 with sales of 681,000).

She is also the fifth best-seller of digital tracks (with 41,821,000 units to her credit) and the only country act represented in the Top 10.

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