Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales


III) Billboard Issues

C) Flawed Chart Runs – The favored

On the other side of the spectrum, all Pop / Rock artists have enjoyed a very favorable chart history by Billboard for many years. We start with Sting. His two albums listed here were supposedly eligible for one more platinum award during their chart runs while they received a lower award. He seems to be inflated by a good 40%.

Then, we see INXS. Kick was a smash, a 4-million selling smash. Not as big as the charts suggest though as it looked like a 6-million seller. We may guess charts started to benefit them from their big cross over hits. Their album Listen Like Thieves was already largely favored, which shows it had more to do with demographics purchasing this type of music. Its chart run is below:

Produced by: Chris Thomas
Date: 02/11/1985 – Run: 122-80-58-49-48-46-45-44-49- (9 wsf)
            04/01/1986: 49-53-51-47-45-45-41-40-33-21-18-14-12-12-*11*-13-20-21-21-25-32-35-39-41-44-49-58-58-66-76-78-82-81-75-75-79-79-77-90-96-114-126-151-167-164-181 (55 wks)UK:#48/15

For fun, we may compare an Alabama album from the same year.

Date: 23/02/1985 – Run: 100-65-50-29-29-*28*-28-28-45-45-46-53-51-54-56-57-72-68-98-96-123-120-135-135-151-147-147-149-147-141-156-156-173-191-189-188-181-179-178-200(40 wks)

Listen Like Thieves peaked higher (11 to 28), lasted longer (55 to 40) and charted at Christmas while 40 Hour Week peaked in March. Quite naturally, calculated sales are more than two times higher for it, 1,3 million to 0,5 million. The reality? Listen Like Thieves took 5 months to reach Gold and 27 to hit Platinum, while 40 Hour Week reached Gold and Platinum status after only 2 months, reaching even 2xPlatinum four years later.

Back to our list presented on this page, we reach the case of U2. The Irish rock band has been massively inflated also. All their albums, including the ones not listed like The Unforgettable Fire or Under A Blood Red Sky, are boosted by more than 50%. The situation is identical for Police. RIAA certifications of those bands always seemed fairly low in comparison to their chart performances – the truth is that their chart performances were severely high in comparison to their sales. They still performed insanely well obviously, just not as well as the charts suggest.

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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