Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales


I) Establishing Key Formulas

B) Scaling the Ranking

For a very long time the Billboard Album Chart has been a Top 200 ranking. During the last 15 years we have enjoyed tons of leaked charts with sales from the US, the UK, France, Australia, Canada and Japan. Thanks to those elements we have been able to know how many units an album sells at each position.

Obviously, it would be way too painful to create specific formulas for each and every position of the Top 200. Even more painful would be compiling each and every position of an album that we would like to estimate. As similar positions represent similar sales, grouping them and using an average for each group is far more relevant.

Consequently, chart runs will be studied by setting how many weeks an album spent:

  • At #1
  • Charting 2-5
  • Charting 6-10
  • Charting 11-20
  • Charting 21-40
  • Charting 41-100
  • Charting 101-200

Our experience with leaked charts tell us that a dozen years ago, the #200 album inside the BB200 was selling over 5,000 units a week, the #100 was moving more than 10,000 copies, about 20,000 units for the #40 album, the #20 was selling 40,000  copies, inside the Top 10 selling over 60,000 units was the norm and the Top 5 used to be close to 100,000 units or surpassing that figure.

The #1 album obviously sold more, with fluctuating numbers depending on its strength. The longest an album spent at the top and the most it was selling per week. This was ever truer before the Soundscan era when the high debuts on the back of the fan base and strong pre-orders didn’t exist. If we transform all those elements into a scale, we get following results:

  • At #1 = weight 22+3*the number of weeks at #1
  • Charting 2-5 = weight 14
  • Charting 6-10 = weight 10
  • Charting 11-20 = weight 7
  • Charting 21-40 = weight 4
  • Charting 41-100 =weight 2
  • Charting 101-200 = weight 1

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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