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Digital singles are set for a record year in UK


Sales of the most popular chart singles have soared by almost 40 per cent as once-disposable pop hits are given an extended lifespan through downloading. Digital singles are set for a record year in the UK after breaking through the 100 million sales barrier in record time.

Sales of the year’s top 10-selling tracks have risen by 38.5 per cent compared to their equivalents last year, shows the Official Charts Company.

Led by Adele, who has sold one million singles in 2011 so far, sales of the top 10 tracks are 2.1 million units up on last year’s most popular songs.

Jessie J is also leading the charge, with 900,000 sales of her “Price Tag” single. Other huge hits include “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO and “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Their performance has helped total singles sales rise by 12.2 per cent year-on-year. The most popular singles are lingering around the charts for months, and in the case of Mumford & Sons and Taio Cruz, more than a year.

A song’s airing on a television soundtrack, or an X Factor performance, is sending purchasers back to iTunes and other digital download services, catapulting the hit back up the chart.

The longevity of today’s hits challenges the traditional view that pop singles are a disposable purchase with a limited life-span. But news that the top end of the singles market is growing at more than three times the rate of the overall sector means that fewer singles are becoming hits.

A narrow range of largely R&B/dance songs, promoted heavily by commercial radio and Radio 1, is dominating sales at the expense of other styles, such as guitar rock. The fate of Glasvegas, one-time NME favourites, who have been dropped by their record label Sony after poor sales, is typical of the shift in tastes.

Solo artists such as Suffolk singer Ed Sheeran can now break through with the right song; his single “The A Team” is about to pass the 500,000 sales mark in its 10th week in the top 10. But the singles market revival has not prevented the continuing slide in album sales, down 1 per cent in 2011. But digital album sales alone have soared 39.1 per cent this year, with 10 million full albums downloaded legally.

The slump in CD album sales continues with a further 8.5 per cent contraction this year. Although 2.81 million more digital albums were sold this year, compared to the same period last year, it did not make up for the 3.26 million lost CD sales. The singles revival has also hit compilation albums, which helped keep the CD industry buoyant.

A seven-year decline in music sales has been reversed in the US, giving the industry hope that the digital revolution, which threatened recorded music, can now be harnessed to create new stars.