Original Album Sales – Comments
1967 David Bowie – 200,000
1969 David Bowie – 2,300,000
1970 The Man Who Sold the World – 1,900,000
1971 Hunky Dory – 4,700,000
1972 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – 8,550,000
1973 Aladdin Sane – 4,900,000
1973 Pin Ups – 2,750,000
1974 Diamond Dogs – 3,650,000
1975 Young Americans – 2,650,000
1976 Station to Station – 2,600,000
1977 Low – 2,600,000
1977 Heroes – 2,900,000
1979 Lodger – 1,650,000
1980 Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) – 3,450,000
1983 Let’s Dance – 8,700,000
1984 Tonight – 3,400,000
1987 Never Let Me Down – 2,300,000
1989 Tin Machine – 1,400,000
1991 Tin Machine II – 600,000
1993 Black Tie White Noise – 1,500,000
1995 1. Outside – 1,050,000
1997 Earthling – 1,050,000
1999 Hours – 1,000,000
2002 Heathen – 1,250,000
2003 Reality – 950,000
2013 The Next Day – 1,500,000
2016 ★ (Blackstar) – 2,000,000
With such an extensive discography, the overall total of 71,5 million albums sold doesn’t look really big. Several factors need to be considered yet. One of them is the very low market during his hottest years in the first half of the 70s. Even his big Let’s Dance comeback happened in 1983 when the industry was facing very bad years.
A second key factor is the popularity distribution of the artist in a geographical sense. Absolutely massive in the UK during many years, David Bowie never truly broke the US main audience in spite of doing so in Canada. The fact he never topped the album chart in the US until he did so posthumously is a real evidence of that situation. He was also bigger in Belgium than in France, bigger in Austria than in Germany, bigger in New-Zealand than in Australia. In other words, he really missed a bigger impact on the largest markets. This may be explained by the highly developed style of his records which consequently performed better in cities than in rural areas, more relevant in the music market of very large countries.
A third factor of the relatively low number of studio albums sold is the release of numerous greatest hits type packages which limited catalog sales of the original LPs.
In any case, the number of albums released doesn’t necessarily translate in gigantic totals. During the last few years, we saw artists like Britney Spears or Alicia Keys among many others struggling an awful lot to sell half a million copies of an album, thus keeping numbers well above that mark during 49 years of new music despite no record ever breaking the 10 million milestone is a trademark of an appeal as enduring as solid.
Both Ziggy Stardust and Let’s Dance came close still at over 8,5 million each. It’s interesting to notice how the ground breaking classic Ziggy Stardust almost matched the way bigger album upon release Let’s Dance several decades after they first came out thanks to its catalog sales. It’s now only a matter of time until Ziggy Stardust takes an inevitable lead. Sales of the likes Hunky Dory may not impress at 4,7 million but when one considers it charted absolutely nowhere when issued in 1971 the figure suddenly ends up being pretty incredible.