ARIA chief executive officer Stephen Peach said the organisation, which already produces the official Australian charts for single, album and DVD sales, has been working for some months to develop a listing of the most popular downloads.
"The stumbling block is that we're not currently able to get sales information from some of the key online retailers," said Peach.
Peach did not identify which retailers had not agreed to participate, but said he was confident that the problem would be ironed out eventually. "There's no point having a chart if it's not representative," he said.
Key players in the local market include Telstra's BigPond Music, NineMSN Music and Destra, which supplies downloads for many existing music retailers. Apple's iTunes, which dominates the global market for downloads, has yet to launch in Australia despite repeated rumours. BigPond Music confirmed late on Friday that it was definitely keen to participate in the downloads chart.
Once enough sources of data are available, ARIA will run a trial chart for a couple of months to ensure that the rankings are reliable. Maintaining chart accuracy is a constant challenge.
Last July, ARIA issued a chart which showed 'Angel Eyes' by Paulini as the number one single, but that position was subsequently changed to number two after a number of sales discrepancies were identified, causing an outcry in the industry.
Initially, the download chart will run as a completely separate listing, but in the long term ARIA would like to integrate that data into its existing singles chart -- an important consideration as downloads continue to surge in popularity while CD single sales decline.
In the first half of last year, single sales in Australia totalled AU$13 million, down 8.4 percent from the same period in 2003. As ZDNet Australia recently reported, download sales may have been a factor in the lower-than-expected sales for recent Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan.
While singles sales are generally thought to be driven by teenagers and young adults, early data suggests that music downloads may be changing that trend. According to BigPond Music nearly half of its customers are aged between 25 and 49. A recent report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) suggests that digital music could account for a quarter of all music sales within five years.
One obvious challenge for chart integration is that a listing of the most popular downloaded titles would include many album tracks as well as singles, Peach said. That issue has delayed the integration of download and single charts in other markets.
The UK is looking to combine its download and sales charts later this year. Similar plans are afoot in the US, though the American market effectively abandoned single sales as a major criteria for popularity some years ago and now largely relies on radio airplay data.