Country Music Sales Up in 2012, Nielsen SoundScan Reports

Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan Among Year's Bestsellers

Despite an increasingly fragmented market, country music sales in 2012 were up substantially over those of the year before, according to figures released by Nielsen SoundScan, the organization that tallies actual retail purchases.

Taylor Swift was country’s largest benefactor.

In fact, country was one of only two genres of music that experienced a jump in sales. Fans purchased 44.6 million physical copies of country albums during the year just ending, an increase of 4.2 percent over the 42.8 million copies sold in 2011.

Rock albums enjoyed a 2 percent bump — from 100.5 million to 102.5 million. However, alternative, Christian/gospel, classical, dance/electronic, jazz, Latin, metal, new age, R&B, rap and soundtracks all sold fewer albums, with classical suffering the greatest dip at 20.5 percent.

Country also had a big increase in digital albums sales — from 8.1 million in 2011 to 11.2 million last year. Its 37.8 percent jump outstripped the gains in all other genres.

In digital sales of individual tracks, country increased from 143.7 million to 162.1 million, a rise of 12.8 percent

Overall music sales — which includes albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks — were up 3.1 percent, from 1.611 billion to 1.661 billion units.

Of the Top 10 best-selling albums of 2012, five were country: Swift’s Red, No. 2 (3.1 million); Carrie Underwood ’s Blown Away, No. 7 (1.2 million); Luke Bryan ’s Tailgates & Tanlines, No. 8 (1.1 million); Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee, No. 9 (1.07 million); and Jason Aldean ’s Night Train, No. 10 (1.02 million).

Adele’s 21 topped the list, selling 4.4 million units in 2012. Since its release in February 2011, 21 has sold more than 10 million copies. Adele registered total album sales of 5.1 million in 2012.

Counting sales of all their album titles, four country acts were among the Top 10 best-selling artists: Swift, No. 2 (4 million); Aldean, No. 6 (1.8 million); Underwood, No. 9 (1.5 million); and Bryan, No. 10 (1.4 million).

Swift’s Red was the year’s second-highest-selling digital album with 863,000 copies moved.

Country artists had the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 best-selling Christmas albums: Lady Antebellum ’s On This Winter’s Night (439,000), Blake Shelton ’s Cheers, It’s Christmas (428,000) and Scotty McCreery ’s Christmas With Scotty McCreery (348,000).

Swift and Kenny Chesney were the only two country artists making the Top 10 list of those getting the most airplay. Swift was at No. 4 and Chesney at No. 9. Katy Perry scored the No. 1 airplay spot.

Swift was also the No. 1 most-streamed artist of the year and the only country one making the Top 10.

Four of the best-selling acts of the Nielsen SoundScan-era — which stretches from 1993 to the present — are country artists.

Garth Brooks is king of this particular hill with a total of 68 million albums sold. George Strait sits at No. 6 (43 million), Tim McGraw at No. 8 (40 million) and Alan Jackson at No. 9 (39 million).

Of the Top 10 best-selling digital albums of the Nielsen SoundScan era, the No. 7, No. 9 and No. 10 spots belong to Swift’s Fearless (875,000 copies), Red (863,000) and Speak Now (795,000), respectively.

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