Understanding: Music Clubs #1 – Janet Jackson, Celine Dion

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Columbia House

A few weeks ago, I presented you the first article of Understanding series explaining in details Japanese Album Sales. Today we will be reviewing a second sector which remains very poorly understood in spite of being one of the largest sales avenue that ever existed, Music Clubs.

What the hell is that? Music Clubs were music sellers with three fundamental differences in comparison to standard retailers. The first huge gap is that Music Clubs produced albums by themselves. While retailers bought physical copies of records, Music Clubs were licensing the right to press and sell those discs and tapes. The second deep difference is that Music Clubs had no physical shop, it was a direct marketing service working exclusively by phone and postal contacts with its consumers. A last specificity of Music Clubs is that unlike a random retailer you needed to agree on a membership to purchase their records. At some point those Clubs represented nearly one sale every six in the US. With the arrival of internet Clubs completely collapsed until disappearing completely from the music industry map more than a decade ago. Still, we can’t just forget about all the millions of records they sold.

Well, when you check sales achievements of your favorite artist you hardly care about their record being sold at Walmart, at Target, at iTunes or on a Music Club, you just care about how many copies the artist sold, right? It isn’t that simple though. In fact, in both charts and certifications, Music Club sales have been treated differently from other sales, notably completely excluded from charts, creating a lot of mystery around them.

Nowadays, in an era of music sites and forums fulfilled by artists stans, this unknown jigsaw piece is often used by fans as a tool to inflate their favorite act results.

Thus, it is time to put some light over this shadow. If very few specific figures ever emerged for sales through those Clubs, we now have enough information to realistically gauge them for most artists and records. To achieve this target, it is needed to understand really how those Clubs worked, who were their consumers, how and which acts were marketed and when they were relevant. Guess what? You are very exactly at the correct place to get all those answers which are coming on this article! We will start by a little description of Clubs – who, when, how – and then get into concrete examples with popular albums. Let’s go!

10 thoughts on “Understanding: Music Clubs #1 – Janet Jackson, Celine Dion”

  1. Hi MJD, great article. Thanks for explaining this to us. Music club sales have always been so confusing to me but I’m glad you cleared it up.

    Do you have music club figures for Britney Spears and Madonna?

  2. Of course everybody is waiting for a detailed article on Mariah Carey as her album sales via music clubs remain one of the huge mysteries of the chart debate in several music forums.

    It would be both helpful and a great contribution to the debate if you granted the world an insightful view in Mariah’s history concerning music clubs, especially since she has often been accused of having “fake diamond” albums as both Music Box and Daydream are quite a bit off the 10 million mark on SoundScan.

    I hope you dedicate her a good bit of your time.

    I hope her comprising article is also yet to come.

  3. This is a very good article, thank you! As music clubs mainly targeted a 30+ year-old audience, I wouldn’t be surprised if many easy-listening/jazz/classical music/country singers got to sell high amounts of records with those clubs whereas they were not big sellers in traditional record stores (especially at a time when Billboard record charts only ranked the music sold in big cities). Do you have any information about those over-looked artists ?

  4. I wonder if Janet’s catalog will ever be recertified… she is more than 10 platinum behind of what should be… such a shame.

  5. Hi MJD! I would like to ask how do you come to the conclusion of Janet Jackson’s Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 selling 7m and 8,1m copies in the US respectively?

    The only information we have are SoundScan figures for sales after 1991, their out-of-date certification (5 and 6 times platinum) and their BMG club sales, which are probably already included within their certifications. As a result, can you explain to me how you managed to conclude that they both sold 2m above their certifications?

    Thank You!

    1. Hello Raffi,

      The huge majority of Club sales started to be allowed by RIAA rules from 1994 only, majors weren’t certifying them before. Thus, both Control and RN1814 certifications do not include their BMG sales. To best estimate their sales in an easy way, you then need to sum last certification + full BMG sales + Soundscan sales since last certification minus excess shipment from certification time.

      1. Question MJD,

        What if their labels are late with their certifications? What if Janet’s albums are certified 6 times platinum with 6.7 million shipped? How can certs determine sales?

        1. Hi Fan!

          On some articles I mentioned how fundamental to understand which certifications are date-specific or not. One needs to check the artist other albums or the label remaining albums to study if the cert was specifically targeted to that album or if it was a global audit, on which case the album could have been anywhere from its new certification to the next one.

          Luckily for us most big albums had various certifications over time. The idea is to define a sales timeline which fits with all of them and checking which certification came ASAP after the criteria was reached, then we can use it to gauge remaining awards.

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