The music business broke a 12-year losing streak in 2012, posting a small but symbolic 0.3 percent rise in trade revenues to $16.5 billion, figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) showed on Tuesday.
The slight increase will come as a relief to record label bosses who have watched the value of sales plummet from a peak of $28.6 billion in 1999, as illegal downloads and a reluctance to embrace the digital age hit revenues hard.
It was the digital sector that showed the strongest growth, and for the first time more than compensated for losses in physical revenues.
Record companies' digital sales rose about nine percent last year over 2011 to $5.6 billion and accounted for 34 percent of income overall. Number wise, download sales increased 12 percent to 4.3 billion units globally. Digital album sales rose 17 percent to 207 million.
The most successful album of 2012 was British singer Adele's "21" which sold 8.3 million copies. U.S. artist Taylor Swift came second last year with "Red" (5.2 million), British boyband One Direction took third and fourth positions with "Up All Night" and "Take Me Home" respectively (4.5 million and 4.4 million), and U.S. singer Lana Del Rey came fifth with "Born to Die" (3.4 million).
In the digital singles charts, Canada's Carly Rae Jepsen claimed the crown with "Call Me Maybe" (12.5 million copies sold) followed by Belgian-Australian Gotye with "Somebody That I Used to Know" and Psy of South Korea with "Gangnam Style".
While the focus was on growth in the digital sector, physical format sales still accounted for 58 percent of revenues in 2012 down from 61 percent in 2011.