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The lift didn’t just happen because of one-time factors such as a slew of top artists releasing albums all at once, according to Nielsen analytics vice president David Bakula. Not even discounts can account for the gains; track sales rose even though most new ones now sell for $1.29 apiece, up from 99 cents a couple years ago.

Still, there’s little question that people are paying less for music and expecting more. Total U.S. sales were just $6.3 billion last year, down from $14.3 billion at the peak in 2000.

People are demanding better ways to store, play and share music, on any device and at any time, and they don’t want to pay a lot for it, said Adam Klein, the chief executive of digital music club eMusic.

Consumers’ “perception of value has changed and will continue to change,” he said. “The industry has got to move quite quickly to keep up with that or piracy will remain rampant.” Inc. has a new service that enables people to share, review and listen to music without having to store it on personal devices at all. Google Inc. and Apple Inc. are believed to be working on something similar.

Digital music is partly being held back by the huge costs of running music labels now and the high royalties they must demand from innovators, Klein said. Cutting costs will help foster the technology that will entice more people to pay for music.

It’s a painful process that will undoubtedly mean more layoffs. Warner now has just 3,700 employees, down from 5,100 in late 2003.

Blavatnik, 53, doesn’t face such hurdles blindly. The Russian-born investor was part of the group led by Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. that bought the company from Time Warner Inc. in 2004. He served on its board until 2008 and still has about a 2 percent stake.

Those investors slashed payrolls and took other measures such as signing artists to all-encompassing rights deals, which gave Warner Music revenue from concerts and merchandise to cope with declines in recorded music. They took the company public a year later to help recoup their investment.

Bronfman and partners Thomas H. Lee and Bain Capital have agreed to vote their combined 56 percent stake in favor of the deal. It would pay shareholders $8.25 per share when it closes. That’s expected to happen by September.

Investors have already gotten back their $1.05 billion investment, plus 30 percent more thanks to special dividends and management fees over the years. The sale means they’ve nearly doubled their money.

“We believe this transaction is an exceptional value-maximizing opportunity that serves the best interests of stockholders as well as the best interests of music fans, our recording artists and songwriters, and the wonderful people of this company,” Bronfman said in a statement.

Blavatnik may need to acquire other companies to achieve bigger cost savings to make the business work. Many people believe his decision to keep Bronfman as CEO means that Blavatnik is eyeing a bid for EMI, which Bronfman has tried and failed to buy in the past.

Citibank is looking to sell EMI after seizing it from Guy Hands’ Terra Firma private equity group in February.

Other groups that lost out on bidding for third-ranked Warner _ including No. 2 music company Sony Corp. _ are also looking for parts that may be discarded from this deal, should antitrust regulators require that or should Warner need to raise cash.

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