The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC) : Introduction

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This concept has been all other the place lately with the explosion of streaming that made it mandatory. This has been a last minute adjustment to only one format yet. We need to go much deeper. At the time, all countries are adopting different ways of measurement, separating albums and singles or merging them together.

If we aim to create a generic scale, we need to consider the popularity of an album as the cumulative popularity of its songs. Similarly, the popularity of an artist is the cumulative popularity of its singles.

So far the industry norm is that 150 streams equal to 1 single. On countries pushing the logic up to the albums, 10 singles equal to 1 album, thus 1500 streams equal to 1 album. I see two major flaws in this approach.

Singles Sales

No, digital sales and physical sales are not the same. As much as they have been presented as being on par, sometimes mixed together as it has been done extensively in UK, as far as singles are concerned one download doesn’t equal to one CD single / one 45 rpm. No matter the way you look at it – the price, overall market size, sales of bestsellers – it will find out that it is way easier to sell digital tracks than it was to sell physical singles in the past. One fundamental conception is the cannibalization factor – the average buyer doesn’t purchase several times the same product. The consequence is that during the physical era, since three singles were priced as much as one album, consumers were mostly going after the albums, creating only one sale. During the digital era, since the price of one song is on average 10 times less than the album, consumers tend to pick the 3-4-5 singles and let the fillers go, creating that way an overall amount of sales much higher. For this reason, the CSPC method will set the standard as 10 digital sales = 3 singles = 1 album.

Music Video Sales

Yes, let’s not forget about it. Constantly overlooked, sales of music videos (VHS / DVD) sales can’t be ignored. Not only they are extensive products, highlighting much more dedication than digital sales or streaming, they are also largely purchased by fans, being as such truly relevant of the popularity of a record. Generally released along with live albums, those two products cannibalize each other meaning it makes no sense to consider one but not the other only because the format is different. The CSPC method sets the standard as 1 music video = 1 album.

Comprehensive Formula

1 CSP = 1 album = 1 music video = 3 physical singles = 10 digital singles = 1500 streams

17 thoughts on “The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC) : Introduction”

  1. Wonderful and innovative approach. Only possible thanks to tools like Spotify!

    I’m very old fashioned, so, for me, it will be hard at first, hehe.

    Shouln’t music videos count as a slightly more “important” sale than one album’s? I mean, I think they are slightly more expensive and have more content. (Michael Jackson fans will be glad, The Beatles’ ones will complain!).

    1. Hello Hernán, thanks for the nice comments!

      Indeed Spotify is an incredibly powerful tool giving a very good understanding of what’s really popular. We are lucky to have it available!

      As for Music Videos, they are indeed priced often a bit higher than an album. I have put them on par mostly because they are almost always released with one live CD with people buying one or the other, rarely both. Thus, it is a 1 to 1 relationship. Obviously compilation of music videos (rather than a live concert video) are different but in any case they will be treated the same way as compilation albums.

  2. Interesting ideas and I look forward to seeing how things are impacted as a result.

    One point where I differ (but this is only a matter of personal opinion) is on video sales. I just think it’s a completely different medium. In practical terms few music fans would buy a video instead of a song/album. They would buy it as well as the song/album, either because they are fans and want to collect items, or because the video adds some extra dimension that is enjoyable over and above the song (in which case is it really the song itself which is more popular when the video is sold). Just as you wouldn’t add T-shirt sales to record sales, then I would say the same for videos.

    But as I say just a personal opinion and I realise there is a case for inclusion.

    1. Hello Davyboyb, nice to see you around!

      First results will come this week itself, I hope you will enjoy them! About music videos, the fundamental difference with a T-Shirt or a Poster is that it still contains the music. A second important point is the place they own on a catalog. Music videos are hardly stand alone releases, they are packaged along with a Live album for the large majority of the cases. Thus, it ends up being only an alternative to the album, Just like a Youtube view is a valid alternative to a Spotify stream.

      Obviously, this will bring in some extra sales due to fans buying both the CD and the DVD of such releases, but that is also a trademark of the popularity of the material if it is big enough to create fans. They are on par with sales of anniversary / expanded editions of classic albums.

      As you said it is a matter of opinion yet and does not bring drastic changes to results so everyone can make up his mind about it.

  3. Thanks MJD. Like you say the videos shouldn’t make dramatic changes in most cases, so I guess I’ll just agree to differ.

    Look forward to results.

  4. Hi MJD,

    Great job but I have the feeling you don’t take into account youtube videos in you calculation of comprehensive streaming : you apply the same coefficient (roughly, spotify streams = 38% of comprehensive streaming) to non-single tracks and to single tracks wether they have a music video or not.

    Nirvana’s Smells Like teen spirit has already 612M streams with spotify and the vevo music videos combined only, more than you give it to the song in your post about Nirvana.

    As you said,”a Youtube view is a valid alternative to a Spotify stream.” so shouldn’t the official music videos – at least for singles – be taken into account ?

    Another question : what’s the market shares of spotify in France ? Can we apply the same 0,38 coefficient to have the french comprehensive streaming (mainly for french acts) ?

    Thanks a lot

    1. Hello zrthur!

      You are right, only music streams are counted for into all figures of CSPC articles. I’m hoping I’ll add video streams into the calculation soon, but for that I have to wait for the value gap highlighted on 2016 IFPI Year End Report to be fixed. In concrete words, while streams on the likes Spotify bring money to the music industry, streams on Youtube bring money to… Youtube. As of now they are hardly contributing in the music which is why I’m excluding them. Several key figures in European parliament are trying to create a legislation to solve this problem, hopefully it will happen soon and our favorite artists will then start benefiting for their plays on the famous video website.

      About Spotify in France, as of last SNEP report it represents only 11% of the market in France in terms of revenue. Considering the unfavorable free to paid subscribers of Spotify, the Swedish giant share likely climbs to 15-25% if we consider the amount of plays rather than revenues. Most French artists achieving notable Spotify plays are those managing some appeal in other markets like Stromae or Maitre Gims. This latter for example has 28m streams with J’me Tire, 14m with Sappés Comme Jamais or 12m with Bella, with Est-ce que tu m’aimes? which is definitely not as big as the previous three in France is up to a massive 40m thanks to its Italian and Danish success.

  5. Hello MJD,

    The CSPC method is a great tool to measure the popularity of an album. So I think about a method to estimate the success of a song. I have in mind several formulas, and I would like your opinion about that:

    1. Album / compilation / live / video… : SongSales = AlbumSales * SongStreams / AlbumStreams
    2. Physical single: SongSales = 3 * SingleSales / NumberOfSongs
    3. Digital single: SongSales = DigitalSales / NumberOfSongs
    4. Streaming = SongSales = SongStreams / 1500
    With NumberOfSongs = number of songs from the studio album where was released the song (or 10 if Orphan).
    So, the total “sales” of a song (its success) will be the sum of the four parts mentioned above.

    Do you think this methodology is consistent? If not, what would you replace or add in it?

    The easiest way to do this work is to use the figures you post in your CSPC analysis.
    I have already done this job for Adele (an easy case), and I could send you the Excel file (an example is always clearer than explanations!).
    If you agree with that method, I could post the figures I get in each one of the CSPC articles.

    Thanks a lot to read that and answer me 🙂

  6. MJD, you haven’t posted anything in a while! Are you working on something big , or just taking a break?

    Looking forward your next analysis !

    1. Hi Nicoló!

      Sadly it is barely my internet connection that is down for 10 days! Hopefully it will be fixed on Monday when the technician comes to check it.

      I have been working still on a big act in the mean-time although since I can do it only on my free time at work it is much slower. The aforementioned big act isn’t MJ though 😉

      Obviously, I’ll answer all comments posted during the last 2 weeks as soon as the situation is sorted 🙂

  7. I suppose it is a big act such as Elvis Presley, Elton John, or big rock bands like Queen and Pink Floyd.
    I maybe, I guessed !!!

  8. If a double A sided single goes to number 1 for example (Rod Stewart First cut is the deepest/I don’t want to talk about it from 1976) are both song’s considered #1 or just the first song?
    Also, would the artist declare to have 2 #1 hits from that single or just 1?

  9. Hi MJD, I would like your opinion on something. I’ve noticed that pop fans always mention tour gross when discussing which era by 2 different artists was bigger. Do you think this is right? I remember you saying that greatest hits compilations should be ignored when analyzing an artist’s career trajectory because they exploit their whole catalog of hits and don’t reflect the artist’s true popularity at the time of their release. Using this same logic, tours should be ignored as well when evaluating an era’s success since many old artists (with a catalog of hits spanning over decades) do well in touring despite their new music not being very popular, while more recent acts don’t do nearly as well despite having music that’s actually consumed. For example:

    Femme Fatale – 4.3M CSPC (74m tour gross)
    MDNA – 2.4M CSPC (305m tour gross)

    The music from Femme Fatale was clearly a lot more relevant to the public than MDNA’s, therefore making it the more successful project but I’ve seen a lot argue that MDNA’s 300m grossing tour puts it ahead of Femme Fatale era and in my opinion, it doesn’t make sense. I highly doubt “Give Me All Your Luvin” and the other failures from MDNA is what sparked interested in Madonna’s tour. Her hits from the 80s/90s are surely the main draw. Which is why I think tours shouldn’t be factored in because like in this case, they inflate an era’s success.


    Circus – 7M CSPC (135m gross)
    Hard Candy – 5.8M CSPC (400m gross)

    Is it safe to say Circus was more successful than Hard Candy despite the huge tour on Madonna’s side? Dou you agree with what I’m saying, or I am wrong?

    1. Surely number of tickets sold would make more sense than the gross, since you’re measuring consumption of the music. It’s somewhat skewed too, since generally an established artist with a big back catalog is more likely to sell concert tickets even if their new album doesn’t do that well, compared to a new act with a smash hit era.

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