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Billboard tracks Net music downloads

The magazine is charting new territory this week, adding data for the first time on sales of Internet music downloads to its lists of top-selling albums.

Billboard magazine is charting new territory this week, adding data for the first time on sales of Internet music downloads to its lists of top-selling albums.

Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks retail music sales and is the source of Billboard's top music charts, will make data available Wednesday on music downloads sold at several digital-tunes services. These include Apple Computer's iTunes, Roxio's Pressplay, MusicNet, Liquid Audio and Listen.com. It also plans to track sales from the upcoming Napster service.

Nielsen SoundScan's announcement that it will begin recording download sales lends credence to Web music-retail efforts and could help raise the general profile of online services among consumers and the recording industry. The entertainment industry also will finally have a window into digital music sales after years of fearing that illegal file swapping in peer-to-peer communities is cannibalizing offline album sales.

"Purchasing digital downloads has proven to be a viable emerging technology among a rapidly growing segment of music fans," Rob Sisco, president of Nielsen Music, said in a statement. Nielsen SoundScan, a division of Nielsen Music, and Billboard are owned by VNU Media, based in the Netherlands.

Nielsen SoundScan will report digital downloads under the "nontraditional" category, which includes Internet, mail order and concert venue sales. In 2002, the Internet accounted for nearly 80 percent of those sales. And sales in this segment have risen exponentially in the last five years despite a total overall decline in CD sales in 2002, according to the company.

Nielsen SoundScan will report only permanent digital music downloads sold through online services, rather than songs played through streaming-music subscription offerings. Digital download sales of recorded albums and singles will be included in the album and singles sales charts, respectively.