Billboard is instituting a minimum pricing threshold on its long-running sales charts, casting a frown upon music retailersâ most aggressive promotion tactics as record labels seek to stabilize the value of CDs and digital tracks.
Under the new policy, albums that sell for less than $3.49 during the first four weeks of their release âwill not be eligible for inclusion on the Billboard album charts and will not count towards sales data presented by Nielsen SoundScan.â Nor will singles that sell for less than 39 cents during their first three months of release, Billboard states.
The policy goes into effect the week of November 21, enabling the magazine to exclude from its reporting any rock-bottom Black Friday music promotions that may be in the offing.
The changes are chiefly in reaction to Amazon’s 99-cent sale of Lady Gagaâs âBorn This Wayâ in May, which attracted hundreds of thousands of customers to the online retailer in its relentless fight for market share against Apple’s iTunes. At the time, Billboard allowed âBorn This Wayâ onto its sales charts, noting that neither Lady Gagaâs management nor Interscope, the albumâs distributor, played any part in the promotion. (Indeed, Amazon reportedly paid full wholesale price for each copy of âBorn This Wayâ that it nearly gave away, taking a loss in the neighborhood of $7.40 per unit.)
Bill Werde, Billboardâs editorial director, defended the policy changeÂ in a note this week, stating that the magazineâs decision followed âmuch thought and consultation with the industry.â
Werde said that the magazine settled upon $3.50 as its threshold price because it represents half the average wholesale price of an album. The new policy, Werde added, âwould not interfere with any regular or semi-regular pricing currently in effect at any of the five biggest retailers â Walmart, Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy and Target.
âBillboard doesnât want to control the marketplace. We just want to count it,â Werde said. âBut free or almost-free albums donât represent a marketplace.â
However, retailer discounts remain an undeniable music market driver. The current top selling album at Amazonâs MP3 store, Coldplayâs âMylo Xylotoâ (released Oct. 24 by Capitol/EMI), fetches just $4.99, roughly half the albumâs price on iTunes.
Meanwhile, only two titles on Amazonâs top 10 chart on Friday sold for prices higher than $7.99: Drakeâs âTake Careâ (released Nov. 15 by Cash Money/Universal) and Adeleâs â21â (released in February by XL Recordings/Columbia).
Eminem may have staged a âRecoveryâ in 2010, but the year held a more nuanced sales story for the music industry overall.
The rapperâs comeback album was the best-selling of the year, with âRecoveryâ moving 3.42 million units during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 2, according to Nielsen SoundScan (via Billboard). That figure is fewer than half the number of copies sold of âThe Eminem Showâ in 2002 (an album that also was the yearâs best-seller). But Billboard points out that âRecoveryâ is the biggest-selling album of a year since 2007, when Josh Grobanâs holiday-themed âNoelâ sold 3.7 million copies.
Total album sales in the U.S. for 2010 were 326.2 million, down 12.8% from 373.9 million in 2009. The 10 best-selling albums of 2010 together accounted for 20.1 million units, or 6% of the total album sales for the year.
Overall sales of individual digital tracks were up by 10 million units from 2009, or 1%, to 1.17 billion. Digital album sales posted double-digit growth, however, rising 13% to 86.3 million. Digital albums represent more than one quarter of all U.S. album sales (26.5%).
The Beatles sold some 450,000 albums and 2 million individual tracks on iTunes between the bandâs Nov. 16 debut and Nov. 22, according to Apple (via Billboard).
Industry sources tell Billboard that the Beatlesâ first week on iTunes equated to 119,000 albums sold in the U.S. â including 13,000 digital box sets â while Stateside track downloads topped 1.4 million. Apple reportedly counted box sets as multiple sales units for its worldwide sales total, though it is unclear how many units each set represents (as well as whether the two-volume âPast Mastersâ represents one sales unit or two).
In any event, Beatles album sales continue to rank high on iTunes as the titles enter their second week of availability. As of this morning, 16 of the 17 Beatles releases on iTunes are among the storeâs top 200 best-sellers. âAbbey Roadâ continues to rank highest, at No. 14; the bandâs $149 digital âBox Setâ itself ranks at No. 43.
The group also still claims eight singles on iTunesâ 200 best-selling tracks today, led by âHere Comes the Sunâ at No. 76.
Summer tour cancellations from the likes of Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, and U2 have many in the live music business fearing a downturn. A Rolling Stone story (subscription required) says high ticket prices and maladroit marketing from promoters such as Live Nation Entertainment are primary culprits behind âthe worst summer touring season in a decade.â Meanwhile, Billboard quotes concert industry insiders who blame âill-advised touring by artists who either donât have a new album or single out, or have made the rounds too many years in a row.â But as both magazines point out, there are plenty of successful tours this season, from Lady Gaga to James Taylor and Carole King.
Streamingâs impact on consumer behavior has been discussed — and doubted by some — since NPD Groupâs Russ Crupnick gave a presentation at last weeksâ Digital Music Forum in New York. As has been reported, Crupnick said free, on-demand music services result in 13% fewer digital download purchases, while non-interactive webcasts and other services result in 41% more digital download purchases. By Billboard
Among the trends and events that will bring further change to the business: The Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger, and the emergence of Internet Service Providers as anti-piracy partners. By Billboard
âRegardless of the strategies chosen by artists and labels to best serve those fans who still desire physical product, they should continue to supply CDs and LPs to the market,â writes Billboardâs Glenn Peoples. CD sales were down 18% in 2009, a decline comparable with the previous two years, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But Billboard says that in spite of retail closures and other woes, the CD â and physical product in general â is not dead. By Billboard
The $2.8 billion in box office is down 2% and the 50 million in paid attendance is down 1.7%, but these numbers were generated from a 9% decrease in the number of shows reported. A more positive indicator is a show-by-show analysis of the year. In North America, average per-show gross and attendance are up 7.6% and 8%, respectively. By Billboard
Billboard reports that as of Nov. 8, four artists have broken Rihannaâs single-year sales record of 9.9 million digital tracks in 2009: Michael Jackson (11.3 million tracks year-to-date), Lady Gaga (11.1 million), Black Eyed Peas (10.3 million), and Taylor Swift (9.98 million). Next week, sales of digital albums should surpass last yearâs total of 65 million and sales of digital tracks should top the 1 billion mark. On the other end of the music sales spectrum, year-to-date vinyl record sales topped two million units last week, surpassing the 1.9 million units sold last year. By Billboard