He's been dead for three years and they've been broken up since 1970, but Johnny Cash and the Beatles were ranked No. 2 and No. 5, respectively, on the list of top-selling artists of 2006.
Cash sold 4.8 million "units," and the Beatles moved 2.8 million, according to Nielsen Soundscan's year-end music industry report. Rascal Flatts was No. 1 with 4.9 million units sold, and Nickelback (3.1 million) and Carrie Underwood (3 million) rounded out the top 5. (That figure includes all of an artist's album sales, not just, for example, sales of Cash's "American V.")
Among other revelations in the year-end wrap-up:
- Overall music purchases reached 1.2 billion in 2006, the highest total ever and the second-straight year that figure has topped 1 billion.
- Growth in overall music sales jumped 19 percent, though total album sales (comprising CDs, cassettes, LPs and digital albums) fell again, by 4.9 percent. The difference between "total" and "overall," according to a representative from Nielsen's marketing company: "Overall includes 'track equivalent albums,' which is a formula we use in order to quantify the digital track sales (we take 10 digital tracks & turn them into an 'album' and then add the 'Track Equivalent Albums' to the physical album total)."
- Digital album sales increased by a whopping 101 percent to 32.6 million, and digital track sales (that is, individual songs) jumped 65 percent to 581.9 million.
- Classical music experienced the greatest growth by genre, with a 22.5 percent increase over 2005 sales. New Age suffered the biggest loss, dropping off 22.7 percent, though rap was a close second at 20.7 percent. R&B sales dropped by 18.4 percent. Combine that with rap's sales decline, and there was a huge drop in sales of so-called urban music in 2006. I wonder whether that represents some sort of cultural sea-change, or if it just reflects the paucity of worthwhile "urban" albums released in 2006.
- Thought you were clever by purchasing the Super Mario Bros. theme as your cell phone ringtone? Well, you were one of 747,900 people who had the same idea, making that ringtone the most-purchased polyphonic tone of the year. Don't get too haughty, "Pink Panther" fans: there were 347,312 of you.
- Album sales at independent music stores fell again. This year, indie stores represented 6 percent of all albums sold, down from 7 percent in 2005 and 9 percent in 2004. Will the demise of Tower Records help the indie stores in 2007? Here's hoping.