Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales


II) Examples of application

H) The Jackson 5 / Michael Jackson (Motown)

The Jackson 5 crossed over from day 1 with their monster smash I Want You Back. Now that everything is set and perfectly understood, let’s see the results of their entire album discography!

From Toledo Blade’s, July 1971, article “The phenomenal success of the Jackson 5″:
”They (The Jackson 5) have six singles and four albums that have all sold over a million copies in the space of two years“.

I mentioned in the introduction that due to the RIAA policy, and the difficulty to access real information, newspaper reports often included understanding errors. Here is one example from Toledo Blade. The article is not fully wrong, as indeed all the Jackson 5‘s first six singles topped 1 million sales. Their first four albums (not counting Christmas Album) topped 1 million too, but dollars grossed rather than units. The following Media repeats exactly the same mistake, mixing gross with units for albums:

From Rock Hill Herald newspaper, article “Success Come Overnight to group from Gary, Ind.“, published in November 1972: “Two of their albums sold more than 2 million copies, and 8 of their single records have recorded sales in excess of 2 million copies”

The same article states they were over 8 million albums in total by that date which makes perfect sense as those calculations conclude on over 6,5 million sales in the US by 11/1972.

Thanks to all calculations, we can also see that indeed most of their albums were eligible for a Gold certification with more than $1 million grossed. Ben, ABC and Third Album grossed over $2 million. Skywriter was the first album to miss the criteria. Young Michael Jackson‘s Got To Be There was the weakest seller up to that point, the irony is that it is the only album that ultimately was certified Gold in 2013.

Most of the studio albums from this list are weak catalog sellers, except ABC, so those figures truly provide key information about their real sales. They won’t be perfect or 100% legitimate, but they are undoubtedly way more accurate than claims you may read here and there.

This system also has the very good idea to be unbiased. For all albums for which we have limited information, using a standard tool based on the data available (chart runs and market size) in an automatic way is the best way to avoid inflations / deflated numbers from fanatics / haters. Soundscan figures ignored a huge chunk of sales for many years and on distinct proportions depending on the act. As the formula we are giving you is based on RIAA to market factors, it may happen to be just as accurate as Soundscan, if not more so. Not official, but accurate.

Obviously, the accuracy is valid under the limits of the Billboard charts themselves. We previously saw some acts deflated or inflated by them. How big is that impact? We will found out right now!

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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