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Singles charts goes digital

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The UK Top 40 singles chart has severed its historical dependency on physical stuff. As of yesterday, the hit parade will allow digital-only tracks to be included in the weekly listing. The Official UK Charts Company, which runs the marketing survey, has dropped its requirement that labels must produce the song in some physical form.

The OCC began to include digital downloads in 2004, and in March last year a song by Gnarls Barkly's Crazy reached Number One purely via net distribution - a week ahead of its physical launch.

The change has helped double the volume of singles sales. In 2004 32.3m singles were sold in the UK, which rose to 65.1m last year (not counting the final week). Physical sales dwindled from 26.5m in 2004 to 13.6m last year. The growth has come from the "tail" - the number one typically shifts as many copies as before - between 30,000 and 50,000 - and that's well down from the single's heydey in the Smashie and Nicie era.

Rules have also been relaxed on qualifying EPs, which are now permitted to carry four tracks and run longer.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) jointly runs the OCC. Perhaps that's why the OCC doesn't attempt to count P2P transfers - which dwarf "legal" sales by a factor of 10 to 1. ®

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