Country album sales dropped 3.3 percent in 2005 -- to 75,327,000 units from the 2004 total of 77,912,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the company that monitors retail music sales. On the plus side for country, however, Rascal Flatts' Feels Like Today ranked No. 7 in the Top 10 bestselling albums of all genres in 2005, and Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith were among the year's bestselling album artists.
The reported dip in retail traffic was cushioned somewhat by Garth Brooks' substantial but undocumented year-end sales. Because Brooks has been selling his current boxed set exclusively through Wal-Mart and Sam's Club -- which declined to report specific totals -- Nielsen SoundScan was unable to calculate their precise impact.
Feels Like Today sold 2,511,209 copies last year -- compared to Mariah Carey's topselling Emancipation of Mimi, which moved 4,968,606 units past the scanner. Chesney ranked No. 4 in overall number of albums sold in 2005 with a grand total of 4,371,680. The only artists outselling him in this category were Carey, 50 Cent and Green Day. Keith came in at No. 9 on the list with 3,132,721 hits at the cash register.
Shania Twain's Come On Over continued its reign as the bestselling album of all genres since SoundScan came into play in May 1991. As of Jan. 1, 2006, that album had sold 15,355,018 copies, outdistancing such competitors as Metallica, Alanis Morisette, the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.
The year brought both good and bad news to America's recorded music industry. In sheer number of commercial transactions, 2005 sales were up 22.7 percent, reaching well over 1 billion units for the first time in history. This total includes not only albums sold but also singles, music videos and digital tracks.
But overall album sales were down 3.9 percent -- from nearly 681 million to just over 654 million units. (In calculating overall album sales, SoundScan includes all sales in the album format -- CD, cassettes, LPs and digital -- plus all digital downloads of single songs divided by 10, the average number of songs in a regular album.) Total album sales -- that is, those albums sold in all formats -- were down 7.2 percent. And country wasn't the only loser. Every other genre except Latin (which jumped 12.6 percent above the 2004 level) suffered a decline -- and all more severe than country. Classical music, for example, slumped by 15 percent.
Buying patterns shifted even more last year toward mass merchandisers (such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy), Internet merchants and digital transfers of music. By Nielsen SoundScan's measures, 40 percent of all albums purchased in 2005 were from mass merchants -- up from 38 percent last year. Internet album sales jumped 11.3 percent. And digital albums sales saw an astounding 194 percent increase -- bounding from 5.5 million units in 2004 to 16.2 million this past year.
Chain music stores saw their share of the album market slip from 48 percent to 45 percent, while independent record stores were squeezed from 9 percent to 7 percent of the action.
When it comes to purchasing albums and individual tracks, country fans are still not as digitally oriented as enthusiasts for other types of music. There are no country entries in Nielsen SoundScan's Top 10 lists for bestselling digital tracks, digital songs or digital artists of 2005.
Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, which monitors airplay as opposed to sales, reports that four country artists were among those receiving the most exposure in 2005 -- Tim McGraw (No. 5), Toby Keith (No. 6), Keith Urban (No. 8) and Chesney (No. 9). Chesney's music video for "Anything but Mine" was the only country video making the Top 10 list. It clicked in at No. 6, beating out videos by Fall Out Boy, Usher, Amerie and Gorillaz.
There was one final indignity for country music. Nielsen RingScan, yet another monitoring service, says there were no country songs among the Top 10 polyphonic ringtones purchased during 2005.