New albums from Coldplay and Gorillaz spurred the first sales increase for EMI in five years. The world's third-biggest music group revealed yesterday that revenues advanced 5.8 per cent to £924.6m in the six months to the end of September. Pre-tax profits were 9 per cent better at £41m.
Music fans snapped up 7.5 million copies of X&Y, Coldplay's third album, and more than 3 million of Gorillaz' second album, Demon Days. The release of both was delayed from the last financial year. Both made the top 10 of the American Billboard chart. Robbie Williams' latest album, Intensive Care, has sold 3.5 million copies since its release last month.
Digital downloads are becoming big business for the London-based EMI, with 50 million tracks sold over the internet in the first half of its year. The value of online sales surged two-and-a-half times to £36m as the company took steps to battle piracy, including suing the Chinese search engine Baidu.com for allowing free music downloads.
Big music companies are scrambling to bolster revenues from digital sales to offset a worldwide decline in the appetite for CDs.
EMI's chief executive, Eric Nicoli, said he expected digital downloads to account for one-quarter of global music sales by 2010. "The industry is making great progress against the pirates," he said. "We're moving from something that harms our industry through illegal use to something that's driving it."
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the trade body, unveiled 2,100 lawsuits yesterday against individual music sharers, including its first case in South America. Each case costs those prosecuted at least $3,000 (£1,750), it said.
EMI is investing heavily in digital systems and has signed deals with Yahoo!, Virgin Megastore, iTunes and HMV. EMI's share of a global music market worth $13.2bn in the first half of this year has grown to more than 13 per cent from 12.5 per cent a year ago. The group expects to steal further ground from competitors.
During the second half of its year, EMI promised an equally heavyweight release schedule. Albums from Massive Attack, Kate Bush and Starsailor are expected to be big sellers in the UK, while US releases will include Bubba Sparxxx and The Beastie Boys.
Shares in EMI climbed 10p to 226p yesterday as investors applauded the surprisingly upbeat news. They have slipped about 17 per cent this year.