Another year post-2001, another few seasons of double-digit drops in album sales.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, in the 52 weeks of 2010 with the end date Jan. 2, album sales in the U.S. fell 12.8% over the previous year. Total came in at 326.2 million units, down from 373.9 in 2009. And the sales of CDs themselves (as opposed to any other format)? Off by nearly 20%.

Individual digital track sales have appeared to plateau, managing only a 1% increase at 1.17 billion units (over 1.16), and "overall music unit sales" (albums, tracks, music videos) fell 2.4%.

As retail guru Ed Christman point out, though, digital downloaded albums are the bright spot in this bleak sales industry, with a 13% increase in 2010. Those 86.3 million units account for 26.5% of all album sales from last year.

The best-selling song was Katy Perry's "California Girls" with 4.4 million units; 2009's best-selling song was Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" with 4.8 million. The best-selling album was Eminem's "Recovery," scanning 3.4 million.

The biggest share of album sales went to Universal Music group with 31.4% of the market. Sony Music Entertainment had 27.4%, Warner Music Group had 19.8% and EMI had 9.6%. Indies -- altogether -- made up 11.6% of sales, if you're going by Billboard's definition of indie (licensed AND distributed by an independent company).

Nasty, right?

[More after the jump...]

That all being said, these figures account for all registered SoundScan albums, tracks and videos. Imagine all the CDs sold at concerts, download cards not registered, Promos issued for free, giveaways that don't count toward the total. And, it goes without saying, imagine the millions and billions of these exchanged for free on peer to peer networks, between friends on IM or on burned data or audio discs.

There's rough numbers for all those, but even still, it's safe to say that after a decade of sales losses, layoffs, music store closings and the warping of popular music radio, the art of selling music artists' work is unsafe and difficult for labels. Few individual artists selling music through their own means, outside of the SoundScan business, have overwhelming success, but rarely if not ever in Taylor Swift kind of numbers.

So where are major labels going to put their chips in 2011 and 2012? If CDs have become merely flyers for a concert, or for merch or for online community garnering, then see what's left of brick and mortar retail stores wave goodbye: its a loss industry except for a select few artists and labels and any perceived uptick in vinyl can't float that boat.

Consider the album cycle is generally three months, up to five months. Yet aside from top 40 --mainstream artists that are still getting high rotation on radio (fewer and fewer new artists by the day) -- the best turn-on to new artists or albums is by word of mouth, a cycle that takes around 12-18 months. See how long it took Florence + the Machine? Or Mumford & Sons? Even Lady Gaga?

To survive these numbers, labels have to increasingly choose and push their artists wisely, and get as much money out of that artistry as they can. (Thus the glut of 360 deals -- a cut of mercy, concert tickets, etc..) Make music a culture and not confine it to a shiny plastic disc.

For artists? Retain those rights and keep control of your royalties and branding. Perhaps publishing, not labels, unless you're superstar-aimed. Music isn't in trouble, selling music is.

See the conflict there? Sign that dotted line wisely. Or don't sign it at all and take advantage of those SoundScan ups -- and everything in between -- on your own.