Digital music downloads reached a milestone in 2008, exceeding 1 billion songs purchased online, according to a newly released report from Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. That represents a 27% gain over the previous year.
But the soaring popularity of the 99-cent download is not enough to offset continued declines in CD sales, which still account for the bulk of the music industry's revenue. Physical disc sales fell nearly 20% to 362.6 million, the seventh decline in eight years, according to SoundScan.
Overall album sales -- including CDs and the digital equivalent -- dropped 8.5% compared with 2007. Every musical genre, including alternative rock, Christian, gospel, new age and rap, reported across-the-board declines in album sales. Holiday sales -- hello recession -- were off by a steep 19%.
In an effort to cope with changing technology and the threat of Internet piracy, the recorded music industry has been exploring new sources of revenue. Royalties from satellite and Internet radio and so-called 360 deals with artists, in which the label shares in concert ticket and merchandise sales, contribute to the labels' bottom line. Video games such as "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" also generate licensing fees.