The Ravaging Impact of Download Sales 2004-2014

No Doubt!

Putting the 5 Top 10 US Hot 100 Hits in its context

Chart books recall the numbers. They avoid the meaning though. We can’t just list the albums that achieved 5 top 10 Hits and act as if the feat was equally easy/hard to achieve regardless of if an album was released in 1967, in 1982, in 1997 or in 2012. Indeed, history proves the feasibility of that result evolved a lot throughout the years.

The first artist who’s album achieved 5 Top 10, Hot 100 hits, was Michael Jackson‘s Thriller nearly 35 years ago, when it raised the previous record, held by his own previous LP Off The Wall, from 4 to 7. By doing so, the legendary moonwalker proved to the music industry that issuing various tracks from the same album only over the course of 18 months could be profitable if hits were successful enough.

Following this newly identified path of success, the likes Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie, Janet Jackson and Madonna soon made 5 or more Top 10 hits from one album too. A total of 16 LPs released from 1982 to 1989 achieved the feat. The introduction of Soundscan slowed down the trend as sales appeared to be way more front-loaded than old Billboard charts suggested, thus the bulk of sales happened before the Airplay peak more often than not. Janet Jackson‘s Janet and the Waiting To Exhale Soundtrack still managed 5 top 10 hits during the first half of the 90s.

From 1996 to 2003 though, no album made it. No big album? The point was more about the industry deciding to promote songs on radio without releasing a physical single. No Doubt‘s Don’t Speak is a screaming example, this massive smash never entered the Hot 100 for that reason. With the biggest hits left out and at most 2/3 songs at most properly issued as physical singles, it was near impossible during that period to make 5 Top 10 hits.

By 2003 though, sales of singles were so rare that it became possible to make the Top 10 based on Airplay alone. Thus, in 2004 Usher joined the club of those elite hit makers with his Confessions era.

Then came iTunes. With singles beginning to sell again, now in download format, the combo sales + airplay was alive again so albums with various hits started to appear. From 2006 to 2010, one album per year got at least 5 Top 10 Hits. In 2006, it was Fergie‘s Dutchess, 2007 was the year of Rihanna‘s Good Girl Gone Bad, 2008 the one of Fearless by Taylor Swift, 2009 was massively dominated by the Black Eyed Peas smash era The E.N.D. while 2010 saw Katy Perry drop big #1s with Teenage Dream.

I’ll instantly exclude the album Fearless. As much as 3 of its 5 Top 10 hits were buzz singles. This was thanks to heavy first week downloads before disappearing. They weren’t big singles-era by any means, indeed Fearless as a whole belongs more to the category of the blockbusters than the hit makers. More on that later.

Thus, we are left with 23 albums with 5 or more Top 10 hits. If the criteria evolved through years, they all remain ultra successful releases. Ok good, but what can we do with that? Easy, we can extract extraordinary conclusions from them while studying their sales. We will quickly see that while those recent albums achieved similar success on the Hot 100, like their predecessors, their success was unfairly rewarded in the album-front…

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Such a deep, exciting article. Would definitely like to see more of this on your website. Are we getting the second part anytime soon?


Good points. Only Britney fans fail to realize that the sales climate has changed drastically and that albums in the digital era cannot be compared to those from the past. There is that delusional mess Eternium that goes on comparing TEAs/SEAs between albums from the late 90s/early 00s as if everyone and their mother wasn’t going multiplatinum back in the day (even J.Lo, Ricky Martin, Shaggy, Ashanti and others) which gives bigger advantage to the artists from the physical era. Even during her ‘peak higher than Mount Everest’ Britney was outsold by Santana, Backstreet Boys, Eminem, The Beatles etc which… Read more »


Thank you! I am looking forward to that article. Just one more question: Lately, we’ve been seeing unbelievably high album sales for some artists in China. Are they legit? For example: Witness by Katy Perry QQ Music – 565743 ( Xiami Music – 64464 ( Netease Cloud Music – 616708 ( Kugou Music- 326798 ( Anti, Dangerous Woman, 1989, : have big numbers on these music platforms too. Are those track sales, album sales, streaming numbers? Are they legit? For example, GAON chart tracks cost like $0.02 but it looks like IFPI counts them (Crushcrushcrush would have never made IFPIs… Read more »


—The Fame era as a whole being arguably bigger than BOMT era that wasn’t as strong in the mid/long run.–

The era of the fame were two albums, to be fair, and it had many more singles than baby one more time and more than two years of promotion…

Anyway, Lady Gaga is two albums. The fame represents 70 percent of gaga total sales. Baby one more time also was a monstrous success, but only represents thirty percent of the sales of Britney. And Britney lived the decline of the industry four years later …


Omg, slobro. That delusional mess and their fellow stans have been trying hard to appropriate the CSPC methodology in spite of MJD clearly explaining what it was really about. To them, an album with a higher CSPC total is always bigger than any other album regardless of their release dates. Of course, when it comes to their favorite artist, Britney Spears, things work differently. Just like how, according to them, Britney’s Femme Fatale is a bigger album than Beyoncé’s 4 despite 4 having a CSPC total almost twice bigger than FF, which isn’t surprising considering it did better in every… Read more »


Britney vs Lady Gaga vs Beyonce numbers one and tops 10 worldwide Britney Billboard hot 100: 5-13 UK: 6- 25 Germany: 3-19 France: 3-16 Australia: 6- 19 Canada: 9-22 Italy: 4-14 Lady Gaga Billboard hot 100: 3-14 UK: 3- 11 Germany: 4-10 France: 3-14 Australia: 3-11 Canada: 4-13 Italy: 1-14 Beyonce Billboard hot 100: 5- 16 UK: 5-18 Germany: 1- 10 France: 0-8 Australia: 1-12 Canada: 0-12 Italy: 0-12 Katy Perry Billboard hot 100: 9- 14 UK: 4-15 Germany: 2-12 France: 0-13 Australia: 4-15 Canada: 10-17 Italy: 1-12 Total Britney: 33-128 (she has 42 singles). Last number one single: 2011… Read more »

Teenage Dream 12

So Baby One More Time is bigger than any Lady Gaga song and BOMT is a bigger era than any Beyonce one. Thank you for confirming.

Tete 2.0

*So Baby One More Time is bigger than any Lady Gaga song and BOMT is a bigger era than any Beyonce one. Thank you for confirming.*

Ha ha and bigger than katy perry career

Weeks top 10 in billboard 200:
One the boys: 1
Tenage dream: 10
Prism: 15
Witness (less than 10 years of career): 2 weeks or 1???

Bomt: 55
Oops: 24
In the zone: 8
Circus (ten years of career): 9
Femme Fatale (13 years of career): 5

Who has more succes and longecity?????


BOMT and OIDIA spent about 80 weeks in the top 10 of Billboard (the same as Beyonce throughout all her career and more than Lady Gaga and three times more than katy perry ) with a lot of competition (backstreet boys, eminem, santana, Christina …). And billboard did not take into account sales of music clubs! The Fame: about 50 weeks in the top 10 (with a reissue) Born this way: about 10 weeks in the top 10 Art Pop: 3 or 4? Joanne: 3? Baby one more time: 55 weeks Oops i did it again: 24 weeks Britney: 9… Read more »


Super interesting article. I have 2 comments to make:

1) There are some very successful albums that generated less than 5 Top 10 hits: Purple Rain, Music box, Whitney, Baby one more time, Supernatural, Millennium, Falling into you, No strings attached, Come away with me, Jagged little pill, etc… do you consider them blockbusters?

2) It is very interesting to analyze the opposite: album with inflated sales due to the lack of physical release of their hit singles, that happened in the US from 1996 until 2004. I wonder how much would they have sold if proper singles were released….



You say that Adele sold millions copies because of the cross-generation effect, but blockbusters albums like The Fame (Monster) sold very well and they’re not cross-generational, it targets a very young audience


Is Like a Virgin a blockbuster?

Last edited 8 months ago by Gabriel

Hey MJD, this is a bit off topic but are these P!nk sales accurate? she posted this picture from her label RCA

Some people are saying theyre underestimated with TTAL actually selling 6m+


Hi MJD! This is truly an insightful article. I’m glad you’re doing deep analysis on the music industry and explaining this to us, making us understand more about how the industry evolved and how it affected artists of different time period. This can also help us from jumping to biased conclusions regarding artists’ success. If this was a research for a high school assignment, and I’m the teacher, I would not only give you a bonafide A+, I’d directly send you off to college, because this article and series is the most impressive you’ve done so far! I have some… Read more »


Thank you ! That’s a very precise and clear insight. Can the streaming platform reverse that trend ? What a difference does it really make for the impact of big hits on overall albums ?


Wow, your research is very impressive.
I’m very skeptical about figures and always ask questions.
After seeing the way you research and work out the numbers, I trust your numbers 100% over
any “leading” publication.