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Yes, physical album sales are still falling like a rock — but there is hope for the music industry yet thanks to the rise of digital music sales.

Music sales in America are up 1.6 percent this year as of May 8 compared to the same period last year, mostly due to an increase in digital album and track sales, according to a report by the research firm Nielsen.

There still isn’t any actual explanation for the rise in sales — a minor reversal after 10 years of decline for the industry. Nielsen points to the release of The Beatles’ catalog on iTunes in November, sales of which could have spilled over into 2011. But that really doesn’t make sense for more recent months. Another possibility is that more people are buying digital music now for media players and phones acquired over the holidays.

Instead of fighting with Google over its new cloud service, music industry executives should be focused on figuring out what’s working so well for digital sales this year, and expanding on that as much as possible. There’s also a chance that this is a just a fluke sales rise, particularly since we’re still early in the year. If the digital sales rise continues for the next few quarters, then it will definitely be worth figuring out what’s driving that growth.

Other figures worth noting: Vinyl album sales have increased an impressive 37 percent since last year, continuing steady growth for the format since 2008. (Lesson of the day: Hipsters can effect change in a major industry.) But don’t get too excited yet, as vinyl still accounts for a mere 1.2 percent of physical sales.

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