Josh Butler • 5 January 2012

Despite naysayers decrying increased music pirating as eroding both digital and physical sales, figures from 2011 show that album sales rose for the first time since 2004.

Billboard reports that 1.3% 331 million albums – both physical and digital – were sold in the United States in 2011, a 1.3% increase on the 326 million sold in 2010. “Total music sales,” including physical and digital single and album sales, increased by almost 7% last year, totalling 1.6 billion units globally in 2010.

In a significant milestone for the physical vs digital market, digital albums and singles accounted for more than 50% of the market for the first time ever; 230.2 million digital albums were sold in 2011, accounting for 50.3% of 457 million total album sales last year. This is up from 203.5 million digital albums in 2010, accounting for 45.9% of 443 million albums sold that year. Digital single sales grew 8.5% on 2010 figures, up to 1.27 billion tracks in 2011; while digital album sales ballooned by almost 20%, up to 103 million from 86 million the previous year.

In bad news for physical formats, however, CD sales dropped almost 6% to 224 million. On the bright side, this is an improvement in the market, which has seen sales figures dropping by up to 20% in recent years.

In other figures on the year in music, Billboard reported 76,875 new releases last year, a 2% increase on the 75,000 in 2010. No surprises that Adele’s monster hit ‘Rolling in the Deep’ was the top-selling digital single, recording 5.2 million sales. Billboard reports that the track was one of 112 which enjoyed over 1 million sales, up from only 80 songs which achieved the 1 million sales in 2010.

So, a mixed bag for legitimately bought and sold music in 2011; album sales up, digital sales WAY up, but CD sales on the way down again. At least it shows that, despite the format and mode of delivery changing, that people are still willing to BUY music, rather than take the easy option to download it illegally.