CSPC: Sales & Formulas Fixing Log – Change of digital singles weighting

Change the Ratio

Digital Singles Sales – Change of Weighting (30/06/2017)

As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1 ratio between one album and one digital single.

For one year now, you have been used to read this sentence on all CSPC articles. Using this 1:10 ratio was a no-brainer, replicated from Soundscan reports which used it on their Overall Album Sales category, with the specification “INCLUDES ALL ALBUMS & TRACK EQUIVALENT ALBUMS“.

Should it really be a no-brainer though? In fact, it shouldn’t. As in every area of expertise, there is two point of views, the technical side and the functional side. Let’s try to check if that 1:10 ratio is relevant in both of them.

Technical View – Industry-axed, gross-oriented view

The standard price of downloads was for long $9,99 for albums and $0,99 for singles, which explains the logical calculation of Soundscan. This price evolved threw the years with songs set at $0,59 or $1,29 at times. In addition, the ringtone was notably higher priced with standards often on $2,49. As we do include this format, it changes the price average. Obviously, all those prices refer to the US which is used as a scale. It is the biggest digital market overall, by far the biggest for all international artists studied but also it perfectly represents similar prices in place elsewhere.

Below table lists entire data of download singles and ringtones both on price and units as per Soundscan from 2004 to 2016:

Figures of note are that 14,26 billion units have been sold on those years for a total gross of $18,6 billion. This concludes on the red figure, an average price of $1,30 per unit. It means the technical equivalence between digital singles sales and albums should be 1,3:10 instead of 1:10.

Functional View – Usage-axed, album replacement view

The whole principle of the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept is to merge together all figures of an artist to accurately gauge his popularity. While working on that subject, we met countless of times the cannibalization issue, e.g. how the release of some products impacted negatively sales of others.

While many factors impact the market, the cherry-picking capability of downloads appeared to be commercially unviable. The most downloads increased, the most the combined market collapsed. It is perfectly summarized by below table coming from the RIAA:

When downloads started to pick up in mid-00s, the market had been stable in the $12-14 billion region for 10 years. As the purple sections, representing downloads, started to grow, CD sales considerably dropped, faster than aforementioned increase of downloads. This conclusion is natural – when you can buy all singles of a popular album for $4/5, why would you pay an average of $15 for the same content plus a few fillers? Here comes a concrete example, the one of Green Day‘s American Idiot album, one of the first major seller on digital formats.

American Idiot (2004) – 1,770,000 equivalent albums

American Idiot – 3,600,000
Jesus of Suburbia – 700,000
Holiday – 3,000,000
Boulevard of Broken Dreams – 4,800,000
Wake Me Up When September Ends – 3,800,000
Remaining tracks – 1,800,000

As many as four singles sold 3 million and more, mostly bought by the same users. In fact, unlike CDs, downloads have never been adopted by the entire population. This is why top sellers are so close to each other, since the low price per unit enables the limited amount of users to buy many tracks. Thus, we are looking at 3 million persons who were interested enough to buy 4 singles or more from this album. In all likelihood, those same persons would have bought the album one decade earlier. That’s 3 million album sales lost, plus 3,2 million singles sold after truncating those 3 million users, e.g. 3,3+ million equivalent album sales. With the 1:10 ratio though, those units are converted into only 1,77 million.

This seems to be more theory than reality, so let’s verify if this intuition is verified at the highest scale, e.g. the entire market. Up to 2003, there was no digital singles sold while from 2007 YouTube and then streaming platforms appeared. Both elements imply that 2004 to 2006 are the most relevant years to identify the functional replacement of album sales by digital singles.

As you can see, every 5,89 digital single sales gained, 1 album sales was lost. It validates the theory of cherry-picking singles shutting down sales of fillers which happened with the album format. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if you have been a ChartMasters.org reader for long as we often pointed out how much the general public cares about the hits only. You can also understand here why the average investment in music purchasing per music consumer in 1999 averaged $120 as published by the IFPI while iTunes revealed their average user used to spend on $64. Those latter were downloading 5 singles of one album instead of predecessors having to buy it in full.

Dividing 1 by 5,89 gives us a ratio of 1,7:10, again higher than 1:10.


With a technical ratio of 1,3 to 10 and a functional ratio of 1,7 to 10, it seems natural to update our conversion ratio between digital singles sales to albums sales at 1,5 to 10, replacing the former ratio of 1 to 10.


All articles published after the YouTube views integration will see the digital singles ratio updated as well as their totals within’ the next 72 hours. Older artists who already require an update due to streaming formula update will have their digital sales ratio changed at the same time. New articles will logically be using this new ratio by default from now on.

27 thoughts on “CSPC: Sales & Formulas Fixing Log – Change of digital singles weighting”

  1. I really admire your great work! I can not find a better, more accurate place of data. I was wondering, though. Will you update Linkin Park’s sales once their new album, “One More Light ” gets released? I would love to see their updated numbers since they seem to be having a bit of a comeback on the charts.

  2. Fantastic job on all the work u have done thus far. My question is will u update each artist when they release new downloads/ albums as well as add new artists to the ones already completed?

  3. I love this page and your work!

    But sometimes i think you hate Fred from Mediatraffic hahaha, but is TRUE! His page is very disappointing.

    Please Michael Jackson and Mariah for next!

    And one more… edit Madonna’s charts! Please, please, please!

  4. i’ve always wondered if the method to calculate how many titles each artist sold would also be helpful in clarifying numbers a bit. something like equivalent total tracks sold where

    each album would be for example equivalent to 12 tracks,
    each physical single on average equivalent to 2 tracks
    and each digital single would be equivalent to 1 track.

    but then it would be unfair for artists who release albums comprised of 16 titles instead of 12 and some release just 10 titles per album. so the equations would not be fixed for all artists. but it would give a nice statistic as well.

  5. Hello MJD! Are Britney’s physical single sales going to be updated as well? I’m wondering because she’s sold considerably more digital singles!

  6. Hey MJ Dangerous
    I was wondering if you’d consider a weighting system for features? It seems strange to me that the featured artist gets the same credit as the lead?

    1. Hi Jake!

      May I say without looking too pedantic that CSPC already weights features and in a way much more intelligent than Billboard does ? :p

      I first though really hard about features when defining my concept before realizing the issue was solved in a native way.

      One concrete example, figures in equivalent album sales:
      2010 Eminem – Love the Way You Lie [Recovery] – 4,520,000
      2010 Rihanna – Love the Way You Lie [Orphan] – 1,830,000

      As you can see, Love the Way You Lie brought 4,5m to Eminem while it contributed ‘only’ in 1,8m for Rihanna. This is obviously due to the album Recovery providing the rapper many sales of which none got awarded to Rihanna. This really makes sense – people watching for the featured artist will buy the song rather than the album, just like all those successful Justin Bieber tunes at the moment, so it is logical to provide him those singles sales. If the public is more interested in the lead singer or at least attribute to him the appeal of the tune, they will go after the album. One other striking example is Uptown Funk, a song regarded by 90% of the public as a Bruno Mars song and in fact Mark Ronson album sold close to nothing. Thus, a CSPC tally will be almost 50-50 between both acts which sounds very fair. This is way I say that by its own nature the CSPC logic perfectly balances featurings with a % that is adjusted as per the perception of the general public! I don’t think I can bring anything better to be honest 😉

      1. Thank you so much for answering :D. I see what you mean now.

        I don’t really think that album sales and single sales are that closely related though. Some artists just seen more prone to selling albums whilst other acts can sell singles well instead. Like for example many singers such as pitbull, Jason derulo, flo rida etc move quite a lot of singles and are established hitmakers but are just not album sellers. So features such as 2chainz on talk dirty who contribute very little to the song would still end up getting equivelant sales to Jason just because he’s not a big album seller?

        Also today the albums sales market is getting smaller and the majority of equivelant sales will come from streaming the single so the feature will end up getting a higher proportion of the credit for the songs success compared to if they had released in the 90s. Whereas if let’s say the feature was responsible for 30% of the song and albums success it’d be fairer coz the proportion would stay constant.

        Also it could lead to double counting? Like if artist a and b both release two duet tracks that are both on each of their albums. They’d each get full points for the songs sales and streams and the songs would essentially be counted twice haha. Like I can’t remember the exact figures but supposing that LTWYL generates 12m single sales and 3m album sales for recovery. It’d be worth 4.2m equivelant album sales whereas in this case Eminem would receive 4.2m and Rihanna would receive 1.2m and it’d look as though it was worth 5.4m?

        But you’re right about how track sales can’t just be split. I didn’t think about that. It’s interesting haha. (Btw im not pressuring you to change your formula or anything I’m just genuinely curious what you think about this, your chart knowledge is quite insane and I’d appreciate your input)

        1. Hi again Jake!

          Album and single success are definitely 100% related. The relation ratio will of course differ depending on the credibility / music type of the artist, but at their respective level each artist will sell better / worst depending on the single success. As seen in breakdowns of the likes ABBA or Bee Gees, hit makers did sell albums – not that many studio ones, but their compilations sold a lot thanks to those hit singles. Those compilations sales are 100% “given” to the main artist while the featured one has no boost from that, which seems fine. Then, if we really look at pure hit makers from the digital era (e.g. with cherry picking available, making their album sales a disaster) a la Flo Rida or Pitbull, they do need popular featuring artists to sell well more often than not so we get back to an example close to Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars where it sounds fairly normal to provide as many sales to the featured artist than to the main author.

          You raise a good point about album sales collapsing, but I wouldn’t tell it that way. Album sales aren’t disappearing but instead translating into streaming too. In other words, if the public is interested in more than the song featuring Rihanna or whoever, they will play album tracks as it happens for Drake, Jason Derulo or J Cole. Those album tracks heavy streams are achieved thanks to the single success, this is truly equivalent to former album sales and this is rewarded to the main act only.

          Also, those feats are added only on “Orphan” part. It was an volunteer choice in order to be able to quickly ignore them, knowing too that the main focus would be put on individual albums results.

          Obviously, there must be limits depending on the featured artist contribution. For example, I exclude collective songs like USA For Africa, maybe I’ll count it for Lionel Richie / Michael Jackson but that’s not even sure, I have to make my mind on that. I have to say that 100% of featurings are not named at Spotify and we go mostly by that, voluntarily to exclude feats with minimal and / or non-credited contribution.

          I don’t like the fixed % though as we get into arbitrary waters something I try to avoid as much as possibly on both the methodology and the estimates. Plus, as you note yourself, it would be unfair to some songs, favorable to others. A striking example is Janet Jackson and her contributions on Diamonds (Herb Alpert, 1987) and Scream (Michael, 1995), both US #5 hits. She was not credited on the first one while she was obviously the main reason why the song did so well. In the latter song she had shared credits, the song is among her top sellers in various countries thanks to her brother popularity. If we follow credits, she contributed in 0% and 50% of those songs successes, in a realistic world, she was responsible for maybe 90% and 10% of those songs sales. Thus, a truly difficult situation to accurately represent with formulas. That’s why I prefer simply ignore minimal contributions and then let the album success / single success split do the work between main artist / featured artist.

          Oh, btw, the likes 2 Chainz, Nate Dogg or so would undoubtedly get inflated results but to be honest I doubt we will ever work on this kind of artists 😉

          1. Thank you for this. I really appreciate it. I kinda get what you mean now. You really put a lot of thought into this haha. And you completely solved all of my problems with it XD

            But one last part though, Isn’t there a way for the songs itself not to be overvalued. Like when I said that if LTWYL generates a certain amount of album equivelants and single equivelants. It’ll be overvalued because 100% of it would go to Eminem and let’s say 50% (or whatever amount Rihanna actually contributed based on the ratio would go to her. And then the single would contribute more sales than it actually had. Sorry if I’m not phrasing this correctly.

            Like if Uptown Funk sells 20m SPS singles copies and 100k pure albums. Then Mark Ronson gets 2.1m album sales, Bruno gets 2m album sales. But the songs only worth 2.1m and yet it’s contributing 4.1m sales across both acts. Wouldn’t it be fairer if the ratio was such that considering its a 2/2.1 split they’d get 1.024/1.076 split? As the song shifted 2.1m copies a certain portion is due to Bruno a certain portion is due to Mark, and the song doesn’t end up getting overvalued.

            Of course that would be overly complicated so I can completely understand why you don’t do that. But like what do you think about the principle of it? Thanks for explaining to me how all of the methodology stuff works btw I really do appreciate it. There’s this music forum I visit a lot and like you’re kinda revered there haha.

          2. Hi Jake!

            No worries, I still had your question in mind it is just that for some comments I prefer having a bit more time available to answer 🙂

            To me there is really no duplication since this is an artist point of view, which is the key to the question. On your message, you use the point of view of the song. You are correct that from Uptown Funk point of view, it sold 2,1 million (using your example) rather than 4,1 million. CSPC articles aim to identify the popularity of one artist and some albums instead. From Bruno Mars point of view, he contributed on a 2,1 million selling song, e.g. it added 2,1 million to his discography. I would see no reason to count 1 million for that song on his tally and 2 million for some other of his songs just because of shared credits while in his own songs there is of course also many more people who contribute too but that remain uncredited.

            In a consumers point of view, I prefer seeing it as 20 million persons convinced by one song rather than 10 million persons convinced by Bruno and 10 million by Mark.

            Obviously, on all singles list, I’ll carefully avoid any kind of double counting!

    1. How though? With the ratio of albums to downloads+ringtones changing from 1:10 to 1,5:10, the same amount of downloads equal to higher album sales equivalents! Eg. 1 million downloads used to equal 100,000 albums, now it equals to 150,000. Just look at Britney Spears, who increased by 4 million album sales equivalents and closing in on the 100m mark thanks to this new formula. Nobody’s gonna lose sales. Quite frankly, everyone’s total gonna increase, whether it’s old acts or new acts.

      1. Not sure how, but look at page 9 (George Michael), almost all of his sales have been lowered. Same on page 10.

  7. What’s on page 9 and page 10 isn’t digital song sales though.

    Page 9 is George Michael losing physical single sales. Just like Britney when she went from 96.9M to 95,8M, she lost around 4M physical single sales.

    Page 10 is Coldplay losing album sales. Like raffi said, everyone is going to benefit from this, whether it’s a big increase (Rihanna) or a small increase (Janet).

  8. As much as I like to see some of my favourite artists’ totals increasing from this new update of digital downloads and ringtones weighting, I think this is more of an inflation. Don’t get me wrong, I truly respect MJD’s hard work and dedication for updating his formula and keeping his analysis as relevant as possible, but with this new formula, a lot of new acts or acts with huge download sales are gonna benefit a LOT with this (eg. Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Bruno Mars etc.) Their albums will have big increases and will match lots of all-time sellers (eg, Teenage Dream, The Fame, 21).

    MJD, I know one of the reasons you changed the digital downloads ratio was due to the inclusion of ringtones, but ringtones were only relevant for a short time (mid-late 2000’s). Perhaps it would be more better to separate downloads and ringtones and use a different ratio for each? Just my opinion though, as separating the 2 formats might be quite difficult.

    1. Hi Raffi!

      In reality it is quite the opposite – I changed this weighting more for downloads than for ringtones. The technical point of view is relevant, but not as much as the functional point of view. As shown by figures, 6 downloads replaced 1 album sales, so the 1:10 ratio was an issue.

      You see it as an inflation because we have been used to see those low figures for many years, it doesn’t make them valid though! In reality, it is the 1:10 weighting which is a true deflation of 00s blockbuster albums.

      For example, without getting into fans wars but using only concrete cases, has Janet been a bigger artist in the music industry Worldwide than Rihanna and Beyoncé? The answer is a clear no. The deflation of digital sales with the 1:10 ratio makes it look like they are lower. If we get into albums-level, let’s compare Janet. (the 1993 album) with Good Girl Gone Bad.

      US Album Sales – 8m vs 3,1m
      WW Album Sales – 12,6m vs 9,1m
      CSPC Total Sales – 19,1m vs 14,4m

      Is that really fair? Both albums had similar hits in the US, both would have got similar album sales too if released at the same time – hit makers are those which saw their pure album sales damaged the most very precisely due to the cherry-picking of songs. Out of the US, GGGB is way, way bigger. It sold more in pure album sales in spite of a lower market and way more singles. In spite of those facts, the final total is much lower than GGGB.

      One may believe “but Rihanna is not an album seller”. This is wrong. A good evidence of that is Maroon 5. Just like her, they have been insane sellers in the downloads fields. Both Songs About Jane and V are about the 10th top seller of their respective year of release in the US (2002/2014). Their sales are not even close though – 5,35m vs 1,17m. The market dropped from $12,6 billion to $7,1 billion only. This shows very well how hit makers were damaged way more than other artists. If Loud outsold easily Hands All Over, both from 2010 and both with huge hit singles, there is no reason to believe Rihanna wouldn’t have been able to sell 7-9 million with GGGB when they topped 5 million with their debut. Or Paula Abdul 7 million. Or Tiffany 4 million. In the same way, it is clear that all 2007-2014 albums by Maroon 5 which were full of massive hits are downgraded with CSPC totals are only 6-8 million, a level ‘flop’ albums from the 90s like Evita were reaching day in day out.

  9. Hello MJD !!
    I have a question for you ! I think that only official videos of a singer or VEVO videos should be counted, because many YouTube users delete their video clips(songs) from their favorite artists and then lose sales / views for some singers or groups.
    I hope you will answer, I am curious about your opinion.

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