In less than six months, the Twilight soundtrack has become the second best-selling album download of all time. Only Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends has sold more digital copies. The paid-download field scarcely existed five years ago and now it's widely regarded as the future of the music business. So it's worth taking a look to see which albums are faring best in the digital realm. Pop, rock and alternative artists do very well. Three artists have three albums each on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the 100 best-selling digital albums: pop balladeer Jack Johnson, alternative mainstays the Killers and rap/R&B superstar Kanye West. Ten other artists have two albums each on the list: Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Maroon5, Carrie Underwood, Nickelback, Dane Cook, the Fray, Death Cab For Cutie, Britney Spears and Fall Out Boy. The Beatles have yet to enter the digital universe, but their appeal is seen in the strong showing of the Across The Universe soundtrack, which is #21 on the list. Soundtracks in general do very well as downloads. Fifteen of the top 100 digital albums are movie or TV soundtracks. Greatest hits sets don't do as well. Just four of the top 100 are hits anthologies (probably because digital consumers tend to be young and focused on new music).
When Nielsen/SoundScan launched its weekly Digital Albums chart in July 2004, the #1 title (the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack) sold all of 3,000 downloads. By comparison, this week's #1 Digital Album, Asher Roth's Asleep In The Bread Aisle, sold 32,000. This is a big growth area for the beleaguered music business. Sales of the #1 Digital Album of the year have shot up every year. U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was the #1 digital seller of 2004, with sales in that calendar year of 56,000 downloads. Coldplay's X&Y took the title for 2005, with sales of 165,000. The Fray's How To Save A Life was on top for 2007, with sales of 198,000. Maroon5's It Won't Be Soon Before Long was out front for 2008, with sales of 252,000. Coldplay's Viva La Vida held the lead for 2008 with sales of 617,000. While it's still early in 2009, U2's No Line On The Horizon is the top digital seller for the year-to-date, with sales of 215,000.
Here are the top 10 albums with the most paid downloads, followed by other selected highlights from Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the top 100 digital albums of all time. The number following the album title is the total number of paid downloads, through this week.
1. Coldplay, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, 702,000. This album had the biggest single-week download sales in history. It sold 288,000 downloads in its first week in June 2008. The title track is #6 on Nielsen/SoundScan's list of songs with the most paid downloads. No other act is listed in the top 10 on both the digital album and song recaps. Coldplay's 2005 album X&Y is #16 on the digital album tally.
3. John Mayer, Continuum, 406,000. This 2006 release has sold more downloads than any other album by a male artist. Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static, at #7 on the list, is runner-up. Continuum finished in the year-end top 10 twice. It was the #2 digital album of 2006, and was #9 for 2007. "Waiting On The World To Change," the lead single from Continuum, is #100 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads.
4. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black, 364,000. This 2007 release is the album by a female artist with the most paid downloads, though Taylor Swift's Fearless, at #6 on the list, is closing in fast. This was the #2 digital album of 2007.
5. Daughtry, Daughtry, 361,000. This 2006 release has sold more digital copies than any other debut album. "It's Not Over," the first single released from Daughtry, is #96 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads.
6. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 350,000. This 2008 release is the country album with the most paid downloads. The teen star's 2006 debut album, Taylor Swift, at #23 on the list, is runner-up. Swift is the only female artist from any genre with two albums in the top 40. "Love Story," the key track from Fearless, is #14 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads.
7. Jack Johnson, Sleep Through The Static, 342,000. This was the #2 digital album of 2008. This marked the second time that Johnson had the year's #2 digital album. In Between Dreams was the #2 digital album of 2005.
8. Various Artists, Juno soundtrack, 333,000. This 2008 album is the second-highest ranking movie or TV soundtrack, after Twilight. The rest of the top five: Across The Universe (#21), Once (#25) and High School Musical 2 (#27).
9. Maroon5, It Won't Be Soon Before Long, 329,000. This was the first album to sell 100,000 or more downloads in a week. It achieved the feat in May 2007, when it debuted with sales of 102,000 downloads. The album's smash hit, "Makes Me Wonder," is #62 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads. Maroon5's 2004 album Songs About Jane is #41 on the digital album recap.
10. Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams, 327,000. This 2005 release is the oldest album in the top 10. Johnson is the only artist with two albums in the top 10. The pop smoothie has a third album on the list: the 2006 soundtrack to the movie Curious George, at #48.
14. Kanye West, Graduation, 315,000. This 2007 release is the rap album with the most paid downloads. But Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, at #15 on the list, is closing the gap. Both albums spawned giant singles. West's "Stronger" is #8 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads. Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" is #11. West has two other titles on the album recap: 2008's 808s & Heartbreak at #20 and 2005's Late Registration at #75.
26. Dane Cook, Harmful If Swallowed, 231,000. This 2003 release is the comedy album with the most paid downloads. Cook also has the only other comedy album on the list, 2005's Retaliation, which is #52.
30. U2, No Line On The Horizon, 215,000. This sold 155,000 downloads in its first week in March 2009, the second-biggest opening in digital history (behind Coldplay's Viva La Vida). U2's previous studio album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, bowed in November 2004 with sales of 30,000 downloads, which set a record at the time. That five-fold increase in less than five years dramatizes the field's explosive growth.
31. The Killers, Hot Fuss, 215,000. The alternative band is the only group or duo with three albums in the top 100. This 2004 album is their top entry. 2008's Day & Age is #65. 2006's Sam's Town is #66. "Mr. Brightside," the biggest hit from Hot Fuss, is #75 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads.
34. Pink Floyd, The Dark Side Of The Moon, 205,000. This is the only album in the top 40 that was released before 2000. The classic, which spawned the hit "Money," was released in 1973.
42. Original Cast, Wicked, 190,000. This 2004 release is the only original cast album on the list. But there are two soundtracks on the list from movies that were based on stage musicals: Mamma Mia! at #47 and Hairspray at #54.
49. Bob Marley & the Wailers, Legend, 184,000. This 1984 release is the greatest hits or compilation album with the most paid downloads. Runners-up: Journey's Greatest Hits at #68, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle (The 20 Greatest Hits) at #79 and Led Zeppelin's Mothership at #88.
63. Fergie, The Dutchess, 170,000. Five songs from this 2006 album have topped the 2 million mark in paid downloads. No other album has spawned as many 2-million-selling digital hits. Fergie's biggest is the ballad "Big Girls Don't Cry," which is #19 on the list of songs with the most paid downloads.
67. Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas, 168,000. This is the oldest album on the list. It was released in 1965, to coincide with the initial airing of the classic Peanuts TV special. This is also the holiday album with the most paid downloads. In second place: Josh Groban's 2007 smash, Noel, at #95.