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America Bought More Music Than Ever in 2012, Winners Include Vinyl and Adele

billboard nielsen soundscan adele taylor swift 21 red

Nielsen, the numbers-crunching peeps behind the U.S. music-sales tracking system SoundScan, have released their year-end report for 2012 and the results are heartening. The big news: Overall purchases regardless of format (album vs. track) or delivery system (physical vs. digital) reached an all-time high of 1.65 billion units over the past 12 months. That’s more than a 3 percent gain in units moved since 2011, which amounts to big numbers.

The other big news, of course, is Adele’s absolute dominance over a year in which she didn’t actually release an album. Her 2011 set 21 not only became the 21st album to go diamond (10 million sold) in the SoundScan era (b. March 1, 1991), but outsold everything else this year, moving 4.4 million albums and a total of 12.8 million tracks. In most categories, she was trailed by Taylor Swift, who sold 3.1 million copies of Red in a mere 10 weeks.

Circling back to the overarching numbers, we were pleased to learn that while physical sales are unsurprisingly down 12.8 percent, vinyl album sales are up nearly 18 percent. For context, we’re only talking about 4.6 million wax platters versus 316 million full-lengths sold by other means (1.4 percent). Still, it’s a notable victory, as is the fact that 67 percent of those sales took place at independent record shops. (Hat tip to Jack White’s best-selling Blunderbuss.) CD sales fell 13.5 percent. Duh.

Within digital albums sales by genre, rock and country were the only categories to post gains, although overall purchases of full-length data packs (har har) was up 14.1 percent, which means that digi-era reports about the death of the album have been greatly exaggerated. Here’s a fun fact: the only triple-digit gain in the entire report comes from world music (in digital track sales by genre) with a whopping 110.8 percent. Thanks, PSY!

And now, for Nelson’s year-end report: