There are two notable statistics in today’s Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2011 Music Industry Report. One is that digital music sales accounted for an eyelash over half (50.3 percent) of all sales, marking the first time digital overtook physical. The other is that vinyl album sales grew 36 percent compared to 2010, selling more than any other year in the past two decades.

Taken together, those numbers lend some support to the belief that consumers are losing interest in physical product, but when they do purchase they’re increasingly likely to choose something that they connect with on a personal level.

Total music purchases also reached a new high at $1.6 billion for the year. Digital sales were up 8.4 from the previous year while physical album sales declined 5 percent.

Music executives, meanwhile, should thank their bookshelf stereo systems for Adele (pictured). It has been seven years since an album sold more than 5 million copies in a year, and the soulful British artist’s smash hit 21 sold over 5.8 million units and became the best selling digital album of all time (1.8 million). Adele also became the first to top best-selling artist, album and digital song sales charts in a single year.

Other top honors Adele achieved in 2011 include having the best-selling physical album, digital album, Internet album, digital song (“Rolling in the Deep”), and most played song on the radio with the same sensational recording. She also tops BigChampagne’s Ultimate Chart, which factors in music fans enjoy regardless of whether it was enjoyed via legitimate channels.

Lady Gaga took the number one place when it comes to streaming music, which is appropriate given her embrace of the ephemeral in art, although the most-streamed individual song was Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.”

Related links:

The Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2011 Music Industry Report

Billboard – Adele, Katy Perry Top 2011 Year-End Nielsen BDS Airplay Rankings

CNN Money – Digital music sales top physical sales

Bloomberg – U.S. Music Sales Gained 6.9% in 2011 as Adele Spurs Downloads

Photo by Flickr user AcidPix, used under Creative Commons license