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Chart Watch Extra: Adele Bridges CD/Digital Divide

Chart Watch

Adele's 21 is virtually certain to do something this year that has never been done before. It will be both the year's #1 CD and the year's #1 digital album. The title has sold 2,287,000 CDs, more than twice as many this year's runner-up, Jason Aldean's My Kinda Party, which has sold 983,000 CDs. In addition, 21 has sold 1,359,000 digital albums. Lady Gaga's Born This Way is the runner-up in this sphere, with sales of 823,000 digital copies.

Sometimes, there has been a big gulf in an album's fortunes in the two formats. Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream was the #1 CD of 2009, but ranked a lowly #56 among that year's top digital albums. Coming at it from the other direction, The Fray's How To Save A Life and Maroon 5's It Won't Be Soon Before Long were the best-selling digital albums of 2006 and 2007, respectively, but both finished #21 among those years' top CDs.

Nielsen SoundScan maintains lists of each year's top-selling albums overall (CDs and digital albums combined), as well as separate, subordinate lists showing each year's best-selling CDs and best-selling digital albums. In this report, I'm looking exclusively at those subordinate charts. It will help us key in on the differences.

Let's scroll back through the past eight years. For each year, I show the year's best-selling CD and where it ranked among the year's top digital albums. I also show the year's best-selling digital album and where it ranked among the year's top CDs. I also tell you how many albums ranked among the year-end top 10 in both formats. And I show which albums were disproportionately successful as CDs (CD hits) and as digital albums (digital hits).

2011

Summary: Adele's 21 is all but certain to become the year's #1 CD and the year's #1 digital album. Three albums rank in the top 10 for the year-to-date both as CDs and digitally: 21, Lady Gaga's Born This Way and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV.

CD hits: Now 37 is #5 for the year-to-date among CDs, but ranks just #188 among the year's digital albums. (That stands to reason: If these fans were digitally-oriented, they wouldn't have much interest in such hits compilations in the first place.) Justin Bieber's Never Say Never-The Remixes is the #7 best-selling CD so far this year, but ranks only #45 among the year's digital albums. (Packaging counts for a lot with fans of a teen idol.)

Digital hits: Songs For Japan is #6 for the year-to-date among digital albums, but hasn't sold enough CDs to rank among the year's top 100 CDs. Lupe Fiasco's Lasers is the year's #9 digital album, but ranks only #51 as a CD seller.

2010

Summary: Lady Antebellum's Need You Now was the year's #1 CD and #4 digital album. Eminem's Recovery was the year's #1 digital album and #2 CD. Five albums ranked among the top 10 both as CDs and digitally.

CD hits: Two holiday collections ranked among the year's top 10 CDs, but didn't sell enough digital copies to rank among the year's top 200 digital albums. They were Susan Boyle's The Gift (which was the year's #5 CD) and Jackie Evancho's O Holy Night EP (which was the year's #10 CD).

Digital hits: Hope For Haiti Now ranked #6 among the year's top digital albums, but was never released as a CD. Arcade Fire's The Suburbs ranked #10 among the year's top digital albums, but didn't sell enough CDs to rank among the year's top 100 CDs. Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More ranked #8 among the year's digital albums, but a lowly #91 among the year's CDs.

2009

Summary: Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream was the year's #1 CD, but ranked only #56 among the year's top digital albums. Lady Gaga's The Fame was the year's #1 digital album and #5 CD. Four albums ranked among the top 10 both as CDs and digitally.

CD hits: A pair of Michael Jackson albums fared much better as CDs than as digital albums, a sign that fans wanted the CDs as keepsake remembrances of the pop legend, who died that June. Number Ones ranked #3 among the year's top CDs, but just #33 among the year's top digital albums. Even more dramatically, the soundtrack to Michael Jackson's This Is It ranked #9 among the year's CDs, but a lowly #153 among digital albums. A pair of adult-appeal albums also fared much better as CDs. In addition to the aforementioned I Dreamed A Dream, Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas ranked #4 among the year's CDs, but only #75 among digital albums.

Digital hits: The Fray's The Fray ranked #10 among the year's best-selling digital albums, but only #48 among the year's top CDs. It was a similar story with Dave Matthews Band's Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King (#7 among digital albums, #33 among CDs).

2008

Summary: Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV was the year's #1 CD and #4 digital album. Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends was the #1 digital album and #5 CD. Four albums ranked among the top 10 both as CDs and digitally.

CD hits: AC/DC's Black Ice was the year's #3 CD, but wasn't even available digitally. Kid Rock's Rock N Roll Jesus was the year's #2 CD, but sold too few digital copies to rank among the year's top 100 digital albums.

Digital hits: The Juno movie soundtrack was the year's #3 digital album, but ranked just #50 among the year's top CDs. The numbers were similar with Jason Mraz's We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things., which was the year's #7 digital album, but ranked just #51 among the year's top CDs.

2007

Summary: Josh Groban's Noel ranked #1 among CDs, but only #17 among digital albums. Maroon5's It Won't Be Soon Before Long was the year's #1 digital album, but ranked just #21 among CDs. Three albums placed in the year-end top 10 both as CDs and digitally: the High School Musical 2 TV soundtrack, Daughtry's Daughtry and Linkin Park's Minutes To Midnight.

CD hits: Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden ranked #3 among CDs, but sold too few digital copies to rank among the year's top 100 digital albums. Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus ranked #5 among the year's top CDs, but just #42 among digital albums.

Digital hits: Colbie Caillat's Coco ranked #4 among the year's digital albums, but just #42 among the year's top CDs. Two other albums experienced a similar fate: Timbaland's Timbaland Presents Shock Value (#8 among digital albums, #47 among CDs) and, for the second year in a row, John Mayer's Continuum (#9 among digital albums, #59 among CDs).

2006

Summary: The High School Musical TV soundtrack was the year's #1 CD and #6 digital album. The Fray's How To Save A Life was the year's #1 digital album, but ranked just #21 among CDs. Four albums ranked among the top 10 both as CDs and digitally.

CD hits: Two albums ranked among the year's top 10 CDs but sold too few digital copies to place among the year's top 100 digital albums. They were the Hannah Montana soundtrack (#8 among CDs) and Now 23 (#9 among CDs).

Digital hits: John Mayer's Continuum ranked #2 among the year's digital albums, but just #49 among the year's CDs. Jack Johnson's Curious George movie soundtrack ranked #4 among the year's digital albums, but just #50 among the year's CDs.

2005

Summary: Mariah Carey's The Emancipation Of Mimi ranked #1 among CDs, but only #19 among digital albums. Coldplay's X&Y was the year's #1 digital album and #8 CD. Five albums ranked among the top 10 both as CDs and digitally.

CD hits: Rascal Flatts' Feels Like Today ranked #6 among CDs, but only #53 among digital albums. Country fans were slow to embrace digital. The Game's The Documentary also sold disproportionately well as a CD. It ranked #10 among CDs, but only #44 among digital albums.

Digital hits: For the second year in a row, the Garden State movie soundtrack ranked among year's top 10 digital albums (#7 this year), even though it didn't rank among the year's top 100 CDs. Madonna's Confessions On A Dance Floor also fared disproportionately better as a digital album (#9 for the year) than as a CD (#45).

2004

Summary: Usher's Confessions was the year's #1 CD, but ranked just #27 among digital albums. U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was the year's #1 digital album, but ranked just #19 among CDs. Three albums ranked among the top 10 both as CDs and digitally: Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, Eminem's Encore and Maroon 5's Songs About Jane.

CD hits: Two albums ranked among the year's top 10 CDs that weren't even available digitally. They were Evanescence's Fallen (#7 among CDs) and Now 16 (#9 among CDs). Two country albums ranked among the year's top 10 CDs, but sold too few digital copies to rank among the year's top 100 digital albums. They were Gretchen Wilson's Here For The Party (#5 among CDs) and Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying (#6 among CDs).

Digital hits: Two movie soundtracks ranked among the year's top 10 digital albums that sold too few CDs to rank among the year's top 100 CDs. They were Spider-Man 2 (#7 among digital albums) and Garden State (#10 among digital albums). Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Love Bad News also did disproportionately well digitally. It ranked #6 among the year's top digital albums, but just #57 among the year's best-selling CDs.

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