NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Country music sales fell nearly 10 percent last year, much sharper than the overall industry's decline of less than 1 percent, industry officials said.
The 2003 showing reverses a trend from 2002, when country sales spiked and were the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for the music industry.
Country Music Association Executive Director Ed Benson blames the slump on a dearth of new releases by blockbuster artists.
"We face the same challenges as all musical formats, but in 2003 we didn't have the same number of superstar releases that we had in 2002 when Kenny Chesney, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain all had new releases," Benson said.
Country album sales fell from 76.9 million to 69.3 million units - a 9.8 percent drop, according to figures released Monday by Nielsen SoundScan, a group that monitors music sales.
Total album sales declined 3.6 percent in the same period, but the figures do not include Internet and digital sales. When those are included in total sales, the decrease from 2002 to 2003 is less than 1 percent, the CMA reported.
Last year's results mark a regression from 2002, when country sales grew 12.2 percent while the overall recording industry fell 10.7 percent.
Joe Galante, chairman of RCA Label Group/Nashville, said 2002 was an extraordinary year for superstar releases, and a decline was inevitable in 2003. He also said fallout from the Dixie Chicks' comments about President Bush was another blow.
Lead singer Natalie Maines upset many country fans when she told a London audience shortly before the Iraq war that the group was "ashamed" President Bush is from her home state of Texas.
Maines apologized for the phrasing of her remark, but some radio stations banned the group's singles.
"The Dixie Chicks were strong in 2002, then there was the blowup with Iraq and it hurt them in 2003," Galante said. "When you put all of that in a pot, you get a decline."
The year's top-selling album was Toby Keith's "Shock'n Y'all," which sold 2.3 million copies despite being released in the final quarter of 2003.