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updated 1/2/2004 1:06:46 PM ET 2004-01-02T18:06:46

U.S. music sales continued to fall in 2003, but there were some signs that the pace of the decline was slowing, according to new industry statistics. 

CD sales fell by 2.1 per cent to 635.8 million units last year, a much smaller decline than the 8.7 per cent fall seen in 2002, said Nielsen SoundScan, the music retail tracker. 

U.S. music sales have been falling for the last three years, a trend blamed on increasing internet piracy and the trend for home copying of albums. 

However, the last three months of 2003 saw something of a boost in sales. CD sales for the fourth quarter were up 5.6 per cent while overall music sales, including singles and online downloads, were up 10.5 per cent from last year. 

For the year overall, sales of new CDs - one of the industry's key sectors - dipped just 1 per cent. However, sales of back catalogue CDs fell 7 per cent. 

Music videos did better, however, with sales DVD music videos doubling in 2003, and overall music video sales up 79 per cent on last year. 

Sales of alternative, jazz and Latin music were also up from last year. 

The year's best-selling albums came from rap artist 50 cent, jazz singer Norah Jones and rock bank Linkin Park. 

Universal Music Group, the Vivendi Universal unit whose stable includes 50 cent, remained dominant in the US market with 28 per cent market share. 

The company would be pipped by a combined Sony and Bertelsmann Music Group, however. According to the latest data the two companies, which have announced plans to merge, would together control 29 per cent of the US market. 

Warner Music, whose list of artists include Linkin Park, has 16 per cent of the market, while EMI, home to Norah Jones, has a market share of just under 10 per cent.

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