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Top singles selling 40% more than last year

Top singles selling 40% more than last year

While total singles sales this year have expanded year-on-year by 12.2%, according to the Official Charts Company, to break through the 100 million barrier in the fastest time yet in a calendar year, among 2011's Top 10 sellers the rise has been even more impressive.

Led by XL act Adele's million-selling Someone Like You, the year's 10 most commercially-successful singles have collectively sold around 2.1m units more than the equivalent 10 biggest sellers had managed at the same point last year.

This represents a year-on-year rise in sales of the year's Top 10 of 38.5%.

The huge surge in sales at this end of the singles market is most clearly illustrated by Island's Owl City single Fireflies, which at this stage in 2010 was the year's biggest-selling single with 634,114 units sold.

However, this year that total would only be good enough to be in eighth place for the year. "Adele has broken the million mark so far and Jessie J with Price Tag is in hot pursuit and heading towards 900,000," said Island Records co-president Ted Cockle. "It's buoyant and exciting and everybody knows, while there is so much doom and gloom, if you get it right with a single everyone will come to the party."

Alongside Someone Like You and Jessie J featuring B.o.B.'s Island/Lava single Price Tag, five other releases have topped 700,000 sales this year: the Interscope/ Polydor-issued Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO featuring Lauren Bennett & GoonRock is on the verge of reaching 900,000 sales; Elektra/Atlantic act Bruno Mars' Grenade will reach 800,000 sales this week; while also above 700,000 are J/RCA's Give Me Everything by Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer; Def Jam/Mercury's On The Floor by Jennifer Lopez featuring Pitbull; and another Adele single, Rolling In The Deep.

But, while the entire singles market is growing to levels in unit terms that have never been seen before, a closer look at the figures does reveal the top end of the market is moving away from the rest of the field. If you strip out the Top 10 titles in 2010 and 2011 from the calculations then the rest of the singles sector has grown by 10.3%, still very positive but notably lower than the 12.2% reported for the entire market.

Island's Cockle suggested the disparity could partly be explained by a smaller pool of songs being supported by some radio stations - most specifically within commercial radio. "But if you do get your song on these stations they perform massively," he said.

Even though the rest of the singles market is not growing anywhere near as fast as the top end is, the expansion in sales is still significant. The year to date's entire Top 100 sellers have all sold more than 100,000 copies; as recently as three years ago only the top 55 titles had reached the same landmark at this stage in the year.

Another factor driving the market forward is the continuing strong sales of titles months, sometimes years, after they first came out. Although, whether this is driving business away from newer titles and artists and the albums market is another matter.

"I'm seeing Mumford & Sons and Taio Cruz singles selling 60-70,000 this year when they were out 18 months ago," said Cockle. "Singles used to be of the moment, but they have a much longer life now."

Atlantic Records UK chairman Max Lousada, whose company has two Bruno Mars singles among the year's Top 10 sellers with Grenade accompanied by the half-million-selling The Lazy Song, said the growth in singles sales showed just how much technology could influence consumer habits to buy more music. That is certainly reflected in the figures with the singles market at this point in the calendar of 2005 - only a year into iTunes' UK launch - having been just 22.3m units; that is almost five times smaller than it is now.

But Lousada also noted it was generally "a very certain type of record" that was selling in huge sales quantities, the vast majority of these urban and rhythmic pop records coming out of the States.

There are exceptions, an obvious one being Atlantic-signed singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran whose The A Team spent its 10th consecutive week last Sunday in the Official Charts Company Top 10 and should reach 500,000 domestic sales in around the next fortnight.

"It's been refreshing a song of that nature is competing in a US-dominated chart and hopefully that's the start of change. The Maroon 5/Christina Aguilera single is also a very different song that is totally cutting through," he said.

But Lousada believed the industry's "big challenge" was not to give up on the album in the face of a rapidly-expanding singles market. "A body of work can much better reflect an artist's personality than a one-off single and we're already seeing album sales increasing at iTunes," he said.

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