The Ravaging Impact of Download Sales 2004-2014

Fergie Digital Art Portrait by David Alexander Elder

Analyzing sales of the Hit Makers albums

Let’s start with up to date Soundscan sales of the digital era albums from the hit makers category.

3,975,000 – FergieThe Dutchess
3,300,000 – Black Eyed PeasThe E.N.D.
3,050,000 – Katy PerryTeenage Dream
2,880,000 Rihanna Good Girl Gone Bad

The first striking conclusion is how close they all are. Coincidence? Of course not. Albums with Top 10 hits are albums which get Pop 40 Airplay, albums with popular tunes aimed at the 12 to 25 years old population, exactly the same age group that was downloading. The lead of The Dutchess make it look like a bigger album. The truth is that with 6 weeks at #1 on he Hot 100, its singles have the weakest showing of the aforementioned four records. One question comes in – was it really bigger, or is it higher simply because iTunes was still not that big, consequently damaging it on a lower extent than the remaining albums? No doubt there, that’s the correct interpretation.

None of those albums belong to the very top selling albums of the last 10 years which may seem surprising since they got more hits than the others. It is because the target audience of hits is limited to regular music buyers, which are numerous but will always be lower than an album attracting regular buyers and occasional buyers, something records from Adele, Taylor Swift or Nickelback have been able to do.

What happens when we compare those 2005-2010 albums to the historical hit makers albums from the 80s?

Please note certifications based on equivalent album sales from singles sales / streams have been excluded for comparison purpose

All three Janet Jackson‘s albums, certified 5/6/6 times Platinum, have outdated awards with real sales over 7/8/8 million respectively. Invisible Touch by Genesis has also not been updated in more than 20 years too, while Milli Vanilli LP was last certified in January 1990. Obviously, it isn’t a good catalog seller, but RIAA rules were changed years later to allow all Records Clubs sales, which mean those units are unaccounted for on the case of Girl You Know It’s True. In other words, 18 out of the 19 albums that had at least 5 Top 10 Hits pre-iTunes sold close to 7 million copies or more.

Both Thriller and Born in the U.S.A. belong to the blockbusters category, appealing to consumers from all fronts. Apart from them, we can also notice that the remaining 17 albums sold 10 million copies or less. This is in spite of 70 albums hitting at least 11 times Platinum. Interestingly, we met the exact same situation than with post-iTunes hit makers albums: solid sales, all very close, but not among the very top sellers. Those top sellers often contain 1 or even 0 Top 10 hit as they focused the promotion over the pure album format.

So, how have we gone from albums which dominate the Top 40 Airplay stations for 18 months routinely shifting 8 million copies to barely 3 million? Weaker Top 10 Hits? Clearly not, on average post-iTunes albums have more #1s and way more weeks at the top of the Hot 100 than previous albums. Lower market? While that would seem true, by the time Fergie‘s album came out, the album market was at 649 million units in the US, a massive 50% ahead of the 430 million albums sold in 1982 by the release of Thriller. When Good Girl Gone Bad came out, the market was higher than every year from 1982 to 1986, which hasn’t prevented the six hit makers albums from those years to move from 7 to 31 million units each. More years of catalog sales for 80s records? While this is partially true, most of those LPs have long been replaced by Greatest Hits-type albums, while the four 2006-2010 records haven’t, precisely because iTunes made those compilations irrelevant.

We are left with the conclusion of hit makers albums dropping from 8 to 3 million in sales on average, a harsh 60% drop, although the market was basically equivalent. The only sensible explanation is that those album sales have been cannibalized by an other format, in fact by downloads of singles. Here comes the evidence…

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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.