IFPI Norway has published its music sales figures for 2012, and they provide more evidence to support the idea that streaming music can help the industry reverse its long sales decline over the last decade.

Here’s the topline: total music sales in Norway ROSE by 7% in 2012 to 545.3m Krone (around $98.4m), as growing digital revenues roared past declining physical sales.

This is the first time we see an increase in music sales since 2004,” says IFPI Norway CEO Marte Thorsby in a statement, which we’ve translated from the body’s press release. What’s driving this growth? Subscription-based streaming services like Aspiro’s WiMP, Spotify and Rdio.

Here’s the breakdown (click on the image for a larger version of the raw data). Physical music sales of recorded music fell 19% to 210.2m Krone ($37.9m) in Norway last year – that’s sales of CD albums, CD singles and music DVDs.

Yet the Norwegian industry’s digital sales grew by 35% to 335.1m Krone ($60.4m) in 2012. So, in 2011 Norway’s physical/digital split was 51.2% physical and 48.8% digital. In 2012 it flipped to 38.5% physical and 61.5% digital – with the overall pie growing.

Let’s break down those digital figures further though.

Sales of music downloads rose by 6% in 2012 to 88.7m Krone ($16m), while revenues from subscription services grew 116% to 189.2m Krone ($34.2m). IFPI breaks out  a separate category, confusingly called ‘Streams’, which fell 32% to 45.8m Krone ($8.3m). We’re on the case to establish exactly what that refers to: our assumption is that’s streams of tracks outside paid subscriptions.

So here’s the picture: in Norway, subscription music services alone, at $34.2m, were worth nearly as much as ALL physical music sales there last year at $37.9m. Yet sales of a la carte downloads are still growing, and just to re-stress the point, an eight-year sales decline has been reversed.

“Streaming has grown from 13% of total sales in 2010, 32 of total sales in 2011 and now accounts for 45% of sales. And I do not think the top is reached,” says Thorsby in the statement, which also reveals a notable 14% drop in total sales in December, weighed down by physical decline. That makes the rise for the year all the more impressive.

It’s hugely encouraging news for the music industry, and should be considered alongside similar figures that came out from IFPI Sweden last year – another market where streaming subscriptions have broken through to the mainstream.

Well, this is hugely encouraging news for labels and publishers at least. What we need now – and what we’re actively looking for to follow up this story – is testimony from artists in Norway to gauge whether the streaming-fuelled increase in industry revenues is reflected in their payouts from rightsholders.

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