Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales

The Jackson 5

If you are a chart freak surely you wished you could convert all the chart runs of your favorite artists into retail sales. Well, from now on you can consider that it is possible to do so!

How many albums have the Jackson 5 sold in the US? For more than 45 years this question had no satisfactory answer. Until 1980 their famous music label, Motown, wasn’t affiliated to the RIAA. It means none of their albums were certified with Gold or Platinum awards. Nielsen Soundscan, the body which tracks retail sales, started to operate from 1991 only. The few Music Clubs sales available start in 1989. To make the complete picture even worse, newspapers extensively confused dollars grossed with units sold until 1975.

During the next pages we will go through all the needed details to understand perfectly that context and learn how to handle it. For long I have been using powerful calculations in order to fill the holes when information is missing. It is time to explain everything to you, providing the tool in full to give yourself the ability to know a realistic and precise figure of sales from each album which ever charted inside the Billboard Top 200.

The article will start by building piece by piece the aforementioned tool with all facts behind all figures. Then, we will be applying it to various acts from the early 70s to the late 80s. This will include the Jackson 5, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Osmonds, the Partridge Family, Cher, Bob Dylan, Earth Wind & Fire, Teddy Pendergrass, Kool & The Gang and the Commodores.

Not satisfied with estimating every album that ever charted, we will also reveal the flaws that impacted the Billboard Album Chart ever since its introduction. In this article we will see with acts such as Sting, INXS and Alabama, how some acts were hugely inflated by their ranking while others were ridiculously deflated. In this article we won’t just state this, we will also prove it.

Sound promising? Wait until you’ve read it all!

14 thoughts on “Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales”

    1. Hi Gus!

      Obviously you are correct, I always think about Kenny G when talking about Michael Bolton and vice versa, don’t ask me why! Now fixed 😉

  1. Hello dear MJD it’s really a very interesting article on RIAA certifications.
    From this article it is evident that some artists such as U2 or Michael Jackson were massively inflated.
    This fact will affect on global sales ? For example the U2 in last year’s article have sold about 192.400.000 equivalent album sales with 12x platinum for The Joshua Tree, 8x platinum for Achtung Baby, 5x platinum for Rattle and Hum and War etc..
    Based on this new article for example their US album sales and their world album sales will be lower ?

    1. Hi Anthony,

      No, it doesn’t impact RIAA certifications. Their awards were achieved thanks to catalog sales and CSPC articles took that into consideration already!

  2. Great job man! Are we getting the 2nd part of your Understanding article about download sales vs. streaming? This is the one I’m most excited about, haha.

  3. Hey MJD,
    You’ve done a lot of work on 90’s and 2000’s artists and I think you should consider looking at Ashanti’s discography. She came out with a strong debut and had hit songs in her time

    1. Hi Luca!

      The factor can be easily calculated for post-1990 years using US Sales Database. I avoided it on purpose for two reasons:
      – Soundscan reflects better ups and downs, runs are much less linear, which corrupts the grouping of positions logic. In the past, a standard run was 152-81-55-38-33-32-33-39-60-121-155-187-out. Now you can have 10-39-101-199-out, which would give a much better result than 11-41-101-out.
      – Internet/pre-orders: they massively frontloaded sales which means now a #1 can sell 30k or 1m. This completely corrupts every possible calculation!

  4. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being quite ignorant, but I’ve re-read your article a thousand times, and I still don’t know how you input the Xmas factor in your calculations. I know how to calculate without the Xmas factor, but how do you add in the Xmas factor? Does it depends on which positions it charted during December?

  5. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being ignorant, but I still don’t know how you add in the Xmas factor in your calculations. Could you elaborate on how to do that?

    1. Hi Raffi!

      You are two that did this comment (with someone at SHF) so I suppose this part is unclear, I’ll amend the text! In the meantime, here is the answer I made to the other comment:
      The Xmas factor ais roughly the same scale as the chart overall, just slightly lower. Here is the weight you should give to an album depending on its average ranking in December:
      At #1 = weight 15 to 20 (depending on how big it was / how long it remained at 1)
      Charting 2-5 = weight 12
      Charting 6-10 = weight 8
      Charting 11-20 = weight 6
      Charting 21-40 = weight 4
      Charting 41-100 =weight 2
      Charting 101-200 = weight 1

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