New figures released by the UK record companies' trade association the BPI reveal that the UK industry is embracing digital downloads quicker than expected.

The figures show that in the first 3three months of 2006, sales of digital downloads were 152% up on the same period in 2005.

BPI Chairman Peter Jamieson said, “With the announcement of the first download-only number one single last week and the inclusion of downloads in the albums chart this week, the UK record industry can declare that the first part of its mission is now complete”.

“We thought it would take 3 years, but in just 30 months the UK record industry has transformed itself from one that was 100% focused on physical product to the most advanced digital music market in Europe.”

Jamieson's comments coincide with the release of sales figures from the Official UK Charts Company that measure "over the counter" sales at retail outlets and digital music services.

Two weeks ago Gnarls Barkley scored a Number One hit in the UK singles chart on the strength of downloads alone, and has since sold another 73,000 downloads and 121,000 physical singles to stay at number one. This week digital downloads became eligible for the albums chart for the first time.

“Recent successes from Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz and the Arctic Monkeys show how digital can be complementary to physical”, said Jamieson. “The lesson of history is that new technology expands the market for music and that is why record companies are so enthusiastically embracing the new digital formats.”

But despite the impressive gains in digital, the widely predicted demise of the CD seems far off as a boom in sales of new British artists led to UK consumers snapping up a record 27.9 million artist albums in the first 3 months of 2006.