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Nielsen SoundScan: Album sales inching up

Research firm says recording industry has halted the skid in U.S. album sales for the first time since 2004.

U.S. album sales for the first six months of the year grew 1 percent, which may not sound like much but it's the first time the recording industry has seen any gains for the period since 2004.

Greg Sandoval/CNET

Research firm Nielsen SoundScan reported today that the total number of albums sold in the U.S. was 155.5 million, an increase of 1 percent from the 153.9 million albums sold during the same period last year.

Digital track sales were also up. More than 660 million units were sold, an increase from last year of 10 percent. These numbers all sound nice but what happens when you count what is known as "track equivalent albums"? That number is derived by dividing all digital song sales by 10, or the typical number of songs found on an album.

For the first six months of 2011, the number of overall album sales, which includes track equivalent albums, was 221.5 million, an increase of 3.6 percent compared with the same period in 2010.

A slight uptick is all this is but this is an industry that hasn't had a lot to celebrate over the past decade when it comes to music sales. Prior to 2004, album sales had declined every year since 1999. The music industry has blamed online piracy for much of the plummeting sales. The Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group representing the four top record labels, has lobbied the U.S. Congress for tougher antipiracy laws and has appealed for help from Internet service providers.

CNET reported two weeks ago that some of the top ISPs are preparing to initiate some tough new rules--perhaps as soon as this month--in an effort to discourage the illegal downloading of copyrighted content. (Read Exclusive: Top ISPs poised to adopt graduated response to piracy.")

File sharers and proponents of free content say that the wounds were self-inflicted by the inability of the four large record companies to keep up with changing technology. I'll have more on this tomorrow.