Classical Album Sales Down, Digital Tracks Up in 2012

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Classical album sales dropped sharply in 2012, by 20.5 percent from 2011. About 7.5 million copies were sold last year, compared with 9.4 million in 2011. It was the largest drop of any genre except for jazz, which saw a 26 percent decline.

The numbers were released by Nielsen SoundScan on Friday.

Most musical genres experienced sales declines in 2012, with the exception of country music and rock. Industry-wide, album sales overall fell 4 percent in 2012 to 315.96 million albums, after 2011 saw a rare 3 percent increase in sales.

The top-selling classical album in 2012 was a Crossover release, Andrea Bocelli's "One Night in Central Park," a concert featuring an all-star lineup with Céline Dion, Tony Bennett and Chris Botti.

There was a potential silver lining. Digital album sales – meaning full-album downloads – were up 14.6 percent in the classical sector, mirroring industry-wide trends. About 2.6 million digital albums were sold in 2012, up from 2.3 million in 2011.

Individual digital tracks saw a 5 percent bump.

Still, the lingering question is whether that gain was enough to offset CD declines. As Digital Music News noted on Friday, the uptick comes alongside a very successful year for Spotify, the ad-supported streaming service, which now boasts 20 million active subscribers.

Weigh in: Did you buy music in 2012? Do you prefer downloads or another format?