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Online Music Sales Surged in 2006 While Album Sales Fell

U.S. album sales continued to decline in 2006, down nearly 5% from the previous year, but total music sales were up thanks to a huge increase in digital downloads.

Year-end sales figures released Thursday by Nielsen SoundScan said 588.2 million albums were sold in 2006 -- a 4.9% decline from 2005.

But digital track sales increased by 65% over the previous year, with 582 million tracks sold, and digital album sales more than doubled, with nearly 33 million sold last year.

The top-selling album of the year was a soundtrack inspired by the Disney Channel movie "High School Musical," which sold more than 3.7 million copies.

Another Disney-inspired soundtrack aimed at 'tweens -- "Hannah Montana" -- was the No. 8-selling album and sold nearly 2 million copies.

Albums by Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Nickelback and Justin Timberlake rounded out the top five.

For the first time ever, a digital song -- "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter -- sold more than 2 million copies in one year, thanks to the play it got as the send-off song on "American Idol."

Country group Rascal Flatts was the biggest selling artist in 2006, with nearly 5 million albums sold and nearly 4 million digital track sales.

Overall country album sales dipped by less than 1%.

Classical heartthrobs Andrea Bocelli and Il Divo helped give classical music the largest percentage sales boost of any genre -- a 22.5% increase in 2006.

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