WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (RNS)--Sales of contemporary Christian and gospel music decreased for the first time in five years, but mainstream retail stores saw their largest increase ever of such sales.

Total sales of Christian and gospel albums reached 44,031,000 units by the end of 2000, a 6 percent decline from 1999, when sold units totaled 46,852,000. The figures are based on reports of SoundScan, a computerized network that collects sales data from retailers and compiles results for industry reports, including charts in Billboard magazine.

The Christian Music Trade Association, the Nashville, Tenn., trade organization announcing the findings, attributed the sales decrease to the lack of new studio releases in 2000 from some of the industry's top-selling artists. "There's a shift," Tricia Whitehead, spokeswoman for the trade association, told Religion News Service. "More Christian music was bought at mainstream stores. Last year (1999), more Christian music was bought at CBA stores." CBA, formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association, is the trade association of Christian retailers.

Whitehead said SoundScan statistics show a 38 percent drop in Christian music sales at Christian stores from 1999 to 2000. Mainstream retail stores, however, sold 23,109,000 units of contemporary Christian and gospel music in 2000, a 9.2 percent increase over 1999.

Mainstream sales totaled 50.4 percent of the total Christian music sales, with Christian retailers garnering 47.2 percent of the total sales. Sales via Internet and television and direct-mail advertising comprised another 2 percent of the total sales. "Mainstream retail once again experienced this year that contemporary Christian and gospel music sells," said Frank Breeden, president of the Gospel Music Association and Christian Music Trade Association. "That this increase occurred even without new studio albums by some of our typically top-selling artists demonstrates that the market for this music continues to grow and to find new audiences."

Breeden said he expects Christian stores will learn from mainstream retailers who have marketed urban and rock Christian music. "They now know there is a huge audience for this style of Christian music, and I think you'll see them make gains in that area in the future," he said in a statement.

The top five sales markets in 2000 for Christian music were, in order, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose and Philadelphia.

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