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CD sales still dominant, though

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Legal music downloads outsold some of their physical counterparts for the first time in January 2004, according to figures released today by trade organisation the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

Last month, over 150,000 downloads were sold in the UK - measures as downloads from UK URLs to known UK IP addresses - with the launch of MyCokeMusic alone generating 50,000 sales in its first week online, outstripping vinyl, cassette and DVD sales, although CD singles still dominate the sales breakdown.

Tests of the UK’s first official download chart are underway, and according to the Official Chart Company, plans to integrate downloads into its singles chart are expected to follow later this year.

The news comes at a point of mixed fortunes for the British music industry. While album sales in the UK continue to grow, downloads, both illegal and legal, have taken a bite out of the singles market. In 2003, unit shipments were down 30.7 per cent to 36.4 million and value was down 33.6 per cent to £64.4 million compared with 2002.

BPI executive chairman Peter Jamieson observed: "All I can really see in the singles market is growth... most of it via illegal downloading. If we can transfer this theft to the new legitimate sites, we could see soon a return to the golden age of singles sales.”

A BPI spokesman added that it would take time for the legitimate downloads to catch up with CD sales, but argued that the figure for January were an indication that progress was being made. “We’ve gone from virtually nothing 18 months ago to 150,000 downloads in a month which is impressive progress,” he said. “It is unfair to say that the industry has been dragging its feet, but creating an environment where artists can get paid for downloaded music has taken time.”

He also argued that for the legitimate online music sales to really make an impact, copyright awareness needs to increase, as many people are still unaware that file sharing can be illegal. “This will happen, though, as more services become available, and as broadband penetration increases,” he said.

The growth in album sales in the UK was attributed to the success of new British artists such as Dido and The Darkness, as well as aggressive price cutting on CD albums. The BPI said that in the UK, 62 per cent of single CD albums now sell for £9.99 ($18.56) or less. ®

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