Understanding: The true sales of Michael Jackson’s Thriller

broken world

IV) Sales breakdown – since 11/1991

Obviously, the world didn’t end in November 1991. Since then, Jackson performed two major global tours, released 3 studio albums and, sadly, passed away. All those events boosted sales of Thriller, which also benefited from Special and Anniversary editions in 2001 and 2008 respectively.

America

As detailed in our previous article, Thriller has shipped 30,4 million units to date in the US, taking off 23,8 million to 1999 there is 6,6 million remaining. It followed proportionally the same pace in Canada with 650,000 units sold during that period.

In Brazil the album has been a true monster in recent years. It was already catapulted to 1,2 million sales thanks to the release of Dangerous then never slowed down. The 25th anniversary edition alone sold 200,000 units without adding LP and download formats. From mid-2003 to date the Special Edition moved over 170,000 CDs. Its total sales are now over 1,8 million in the country with 685,000 copies coming after 1991.

The story is the same in Mexico. Among international albums, Thriller was stunningly the #4 top selling album of 2008 and raised the bar even more in 2009 when it was #1. It is now up to 1,775,000 units overall, 575,000 copies of which came since 1991. In the rest of Latin America sales amounted to half a million units with nearly half coming from Argentina.

Total – 6,600,000 + 650,000 + 685,000 + 575,000 + 500,000 = 9,010,000

Europe

Sales of Thriller in the UK during the last 25 years are now well over a million. In fact, its DUS tally is now up to that mark. DUS is the UK-equivalent to Soundscan, the system scanning units sold every week. This system started only in 1994, with Thriller reaching #17 in 1992. Last but not least, DUS counts Thriller 25 as a distinct release, itself selling 317,500 copies by the end of 2009. In total, that’s a massive 1,585,000 units newly shipped since the end of 1991.

Jackson is massive everywhere, but his status is God-like in France. Thriller 25 dominated the overall chart for 3 weeks there while the album returned to #1 after his death for an unreal 8 weeks! It hasn’t slowed down as the record charts #51 just this week in the sales chart. Up to 3,775,000 units for the country, that’s an addition of 1,4 million units since 1991.

Hitting #2 both times in 2008 and 2009, the info is more limited in Germany as no sales figure nor certification was given in recent years. Thanks to its chart run on a market size that is well known we can commit on a figure of 850,000 units for that period.

In Italy, Thriller climbed to 1,19 million by 2001. It then sold 50,000 units in 2008, nearly 100,000 copies during 2009 and over 40,000 copies since. In total, since 1991, it has moved 435,000 units.

From 100,000 to 300,000 units sold since 1991 we can find Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland and Poland. Sales are confirmed from 40,000 to 100,000 units in Austria, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, and Ireland. In countries like Russia and Hungary the 25th Anniversary Edition was certified Gold and Platinum respectively, although very little information has come out for Eastern Europe. All those countries plus the missing nations add for 2 million units.

Total – 1,585,000 + 1,400,000 + 850,000 + 435,000 + 2,000,000 = 6,270,000

Oceania

After moving 800,000 units in Australia and 130,000 units in New-Zealand up to 1991, Thriller leveled up to 1,12 million and 180,000 units certified respectively. It sold 55,000 more copies combined since those last awards, a total of 425,000 units since 1991.

Asia

As many as 6 distinct Thriller editions charted in Japan during the last decade, all of this without accounting for the digital version nor the LP format. From its 2,05 million total in 1991, the album climbed to 2,3 million to 2,5 million and to 2,8 million up to date. That’s an increase of 750,000 units.

While it is hard to identify definitive values for remaining Asian countries, their market boomed during the 90s. Jackson was at his peak there at that point. He also toured in Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan in 1993, in front of 80,000 people and more in each country. He did it again with massive shows in 1996 in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and India. At the time, touring had a major impact on sales, especially from an artist as gigantic as Jackson, and in countries rarely visited by premium global stars. Estimates are set on 1 million units sold outside of Japan.

Total – 750,000 + 1,000,000 = 1,750,000

Rest of the World

By the mid-90s, countries from the Middle East and Africa represented nearly 130 million albums sold per year, more than a market such as France. It doesn’t mean Thriller has sold 1,4 million units there since 1991 though, as a large part of most of the sales in those markets are restricted to local acts. Jackson was highly popular in all of them though. Outside of North America Thriller sold an average of 50% of its pre-1991 sales after that date. Applying the same ratio for remaining countries seems reasonable, which means 400,000 sales.

World

Total – 9,01 + 6,27 + 0,425 + 1,75 + 0,4 = 17,85 million

More than 85% of those sales are backed up by solid information. The remaining 15% is worked out again thanks to market sizes / Jackson‘s relative popularity in the countries. A few figures will be slightly too low, others too high, but the final result will never vary much from 17,85million. As incredible as it seems, Thriller sold more since 1991 than OasisMorning Glory, Red Hot Chili PeppersCalifornication, Madonna‘s Ray Of Light and Spice GirlsSpice World.

Added to the near 48 million sales confirmed up to 11/1991, that’s 63 million sales under control and then less than 3 million worked out with estimations.

Consequently, if there is a gap over 100 million between some claims surrounding Thriller, we can safely point out this cult album sold 65,8 million units to date with a marginal window of error. That’s a sensational 51,7% lead over the second highest selling album, the 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd which stands at 43,3 million units sold.

One may wonder why Sony has been reporting 100 million + figures. Well, first, it looks a lot nicer.

How?

This is why.

By misleading us a bit, by stating sales of the track Thriller rather than the album. This tally includes the original studio album and the single, but also all the remaining compilations that have the Thriller track on them. Adding HIStory, Number Ones, and The Essential etc. into this count obviously increases it a lot.

Speaking of his remaining records, as you can guess the CSPC article for Michael Jackson is underway. Keep calm, it’s coming soon!

Sources: Sony Music, Epic, Billboard, Music & Media, RIAA, Amprofon, CRIA, BPI, SNEP, IFPI.DE, Swisscharts, IFPI.AT, IFPI.FI, IFPI.SE, IFPI.DK, NVPI, M&D, FIMI, ARIA, RIANZ, RIAJ, Oricon, Le Monde, NYT, LA Times, La Nacion, El Tiempo, The Bulletin, Discogs, Mercado Livre, Chartmasters.

17 thoughts on “Understanding: The true sales of Michael Jackson’s Thriller”

    1. No chance. That 49m claim, that was put out a few years ago, is completely made up, there is no way it has sold/shipped 49m even now, let alone back when the claim was made. I’d imagine it is around about the same figure as Led Zeppelin IV in sales/shipments.

  1. So what is the highest selling album in the US between Thriller and The Very Best Of The Eagles?

    Both albums must be quite close.

    Can’t wait for the MJ CSPC article 🙂

    1. Hi IE!

      I supposed you refer to Greatest Hits 71/75 🙂

      The album climbed from 4,95m to 6,2m units scanned in the US since it was certified 29xP in 01/2006. The award was date-specific as during the second semester of 2005 Hell Freezes Over, Hotel California (the song) and one of their DVDs were certified so their catalog was audited. As it was certified in 2006 when sales of physical albums were 7 times higher than now, we can expect over 50,000 copies on shelves by then, especially as it was certified just after Christmas. That’s 29 + 6,2 – 4,95 – 0,05 = 30,2 million. Definitely, it isn’t far from Thriller as you can see, but a good 200k behind as of now!

  2. with only one album, and with just its pure album sales (i.e. no singles, streaming, greatest hits, dvds factored in), michael jackson would be 33rd on the list of studied artists so far. something tells me that with the full cspc of this album alone, he would be somewhere around the 24th position. ridiculous just wow

    1. On top of that, Thriller’s pure sales at 65.6M mean it’s currently second on the CSPC chart in just sales. It’s going to be so, so, so far ahead of every other album when CSPC is calculated for it. It’s almost unrealistic how successful Thriller remains.

  3. You should do Barbra Streisand next after Michael. Michael’s favorite song is “People” and now the Only “lost” one of Female Big Four in the site

  4. Great work again. This is random, but I was wondering if you were able to do Paula Abdul. She does not have many releases, and I was wondering if her debut crossed the 10 million mark in US. Thanks MJ!

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