Destroying Myths: Fake 10 million sellers

Fake t-shirt 2

When someone from the general public gets into a website regarding music charts and sales, the first thing that will strike them is how wrong every claim they’ve been reading in mainstream news is. As the general description of my blog is One step closer to being accurate, I feel the need to turn down some tenacious fanciful sales claims, which is why I’m introducing this new master series, Destroying Myths.


More often than not fake claims are attributed to major labels, which believe it or not, rarely make totally fake comments. Instead, their marketing teams naturally publish news aiming to promote their artists and, while doing so often describe the reality in a very favorable way, ideally creating confusion among uneducated readers. A song that reached #1 on a very minor Billboard chart will suddenly become a “US #1 hit”, “10 million records” in a label publication will become “10 million albums” in most press and so on. If you add to that shipment against retail sales confusion as well as strict figures against track / album equivalents, the result is a huge mess.

Still, every time a label makes an official statement about record sales, it will have to pay the related artist royalties accordingly. Thus, unlike what most people will tend to believe, they truly do not want to inflate sales figures. This is why they will try to create confusion but never drop numbers out of nowhere. The fake claim will instead come from someone who’s legally responsible for label rights, such as the artist themselves or their management team. This being said, the biggest source of fake claims is still the poor interpretation by Media and readers that go on publishing bad quality second hand news.

There are many, many fake claims that came out over the years. Today I’ll be focusing on one of the most fiercely defended by die hard fans, the fake 10 million selling albums. An extensive list of major artists to have 7-9 million selling albums that are constantly reported as a 10-million album. In fact, it sounds so much better! Wishful thinking is often the enemy of fans and the reality much more unpleasant. At least as I’ll be posting a whole bunch of inflated albums, I hope you won’t believe I’m hating 🙂

Time to return some accuracy proceedings, let’s go!

Barbra Streisand – A Star Is Born (1976)

Claimed Sales – 15,000,000
Estimated Sales – 8,300,000

With 5 million units sold in the US and a to date total not that far from a million in the UK, this album may look like a very serious contender for 10 million sales.

By 1976 the market was still heavily dominated by English-speaking countries. This album was no exception, the four main English-speaking markets (USA, UK, Canada, Australia) are exactly the only markets where this record topped the 200,000 copies level.

Over 8 million units is a wonderful result nevertheless for the American vocalist, but the 15 million figure that can be read everywhere is truly way off from reality.

Blondie – Parallel Lines (1978)

Claimed Sales – 20,000,000
Estimated Sales – 8,700,000

This classic Blondie album does hold a record – the most ridiculously inflated non-10 million selling album ever! Widely reported as a 20 million seller, including by Billboard’s website, this record sold just 3 million copies in the US and 4 million in Europe.

Just like Barbra Streisand, this doesn’t mean the album wasn’t successful. In fact, only about 40 studio albums released during the 70s managed to sell 10 million copies, 30 of which are rock albums by classic bands, which made it thanks to a decade of enduring catalog sales. If you wonder which female-led albums from that decade passed this milestone, well, there are only two – Carole King’s monster album Tapestry (22 million) and ABBA’s top seller Arrival. Both Parallel Lines and A Star Is Born are precisely #3 and #4 of the decade among female-sung studio albums.

Madonna – Madonna (1983)

Claimed Sales – 11,000,000
Estimated Sales – 9,600,000

Continuing on with female-led albums, we get into with 80s thanks to Madonna’s debut album. This album along with its follow up Like A Virgin are the only two albums by the artist which followed the old model of the music industry, highly focusing on English-speaking countries.

With over 5 million copies sold in the US, this album sold less than half this figure in both Europe and elsewhere. Catalog sales until The Immaculate Collection released pushed this record higher and higher, but not enough to reach the 10 million milestone. Had the 1990 compilation been released a few years later, it would have been a very different story by now!

Mariah Carey – Emotions (1991)

Claimed Sales – 12,000,000
Estimated Sales – 8,200,000

Some sources which often post the most inflated number that can be found on the internet (do you see which website I’m referring to?) actually put this album on 8 million units sold up to date while in a market by market comparison it is on par with albums claimed at 15 million units by the same site!

Using her strong Asian sales to compensate her still-in-the-making European success, Mariah Carey almost made it with her second album Emotions. A rather poor catalog seller, it seems forever is separating this album from reaching the magical mark.

We will be noticing many 8-9 million selling albums claimed on 12 million copies. Inflating figures even more is often used to make the lower-exaggeration look like a given fact. This explains the gap from the 8 million figure, a real major communication which appears to be outdated now but still repeated, and the wishful thinking 12 million claim.

Celine Dion – D’Eux (1995)

Claimed Sales – 10,000,000
Estimated Sales – 7,200,000

More than 7 million is beyond extraordinary for a French-language album, indeed it is quite simply the best selling album ever fitting this category. Still, 10 million is absolutely ludicrous for this album.

A figure raised after the infamous IFPI typo that defined this album as 8xPlatinum in one of their online PDFs – a certification that never happened obviously as it’s not only unrealistic but more importantly never appeared in all yearly published awards – it is now hard to bring some accuracy back. One may consider all exaggerations unnecessary, given the absolutely tremendous success this album met the fake claim was really pointless.

Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. Do you think it is a causality to see mostly divas albums around? Certainly not. Am I aiming to compete them against one another? Certainly not, either. There are two pretty simple reasons which tell why this situation happens.

The first reason is the massive divas’ stans war going on for decades. With so many delusional people battling to put their favorite artist on top, raising the bar of supposed sales more and more has become a daily job. Fans of rock bands are much less concerned by those questions and as such don’t feel the need to feed such myths.

The second reason is less obvious but just as important, it is the weakness of catalog sales of all divas. When a classic rock album up to 9 million starts being reported at 10 million, it is only a matter of time before those 10 million copies are really sold. Most of the old studio albums by divas sold in the 1-50,000 units range per year, in our day and age in the lower part of this range. Thus, adding barely half a million units to real figures will require decades of catalog sales. Many such 10-million myths appeared due to this reason with fans jumping on the argument “the album was on 9 million 10 years ago, it must be on 10-11 million by now!”, well, that would be nice but it isn’t so easy!

George Michael – Older (1996)

Claimed Sales – 15,000,000
Estimated Sales – 8,500,000

Largely forgotten by now, George Michael enjoyed a big 15-years window from his Wham! years until Older included. By that point, his career was virtually dead already in the US where this album sold barely a million, a far cry from the 11 million US total of his 1987 album Faith.

With 5 million sales in Europe, the album more than made up for the US failure, but once again the 10 million plateau was just too high for this album. The fact the Ladies & Gentlemen compilation was released just after Older’s promotion certainly hasn’t helped either in increasing its total to the rounded plateau. Perhaps now with his sudden death, Older may reach the 10 million figure.

Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope (1997)

Claimed Sales – 10,000,000
Estimated Sales – 7,500,000

After her golden years in the US and in Japan from 1986 to 1993, Janet Jackson added strong European appeal with her The Velvet Rope album. Still, while her previous three albums made it to the 10 million level, this one failed to do so.

How? That’s quite simple, while she increased her appeal in various new countries, she proportionally lost it in the US and in Japan. If her previous albums were climbing up to the 8 million sales in the US, this one failed to sell even half that total.

Well, considering her more recent albums results, I’m sure the R&B star wouldn’t complain if she could only  sell 4 million North American units with her upcoming set!

Mariah Carey – Rainbow (1999)

Claimed Sales – 15,000,000
Estimated Sales – 8,000,000

Yes, Mariah Carey makes her second entry on this list. Question: is it the last? Place your bet.

To be honest, Rainbow sold well everywhere. Just not well enough. Losing ground in several places, most notably in Japan, this album joins Emotions as her weakest 90s sellers. I guess it’s not that hard to recover from this disappointment when you realize such a huge seller is your weakest album!

Like several albums mentioned before, catalog sales of this record are way too weak to ever expect the 10 million total to be eclipsed.

Michael Jackson – Invincible (2001)

Claimed Sales – 10,000,000
Estimated Sales – 7,400,000

No, I won’t be getting into the debate of Michael Jackson belonging to the divas group or not! Surely the global superstar has his own legion of stans. I started this article pointing out how much better 10 million looks than 9 million. This is ever more true when you used to average more than 30 million and suddenly stop at 7 million.

Some even argued 11 or 13 million sales for this record. In reality it shipped 5,4 million units during the year 2001 and definitely sold in the negatives in 2002. How is that possible? Well, it happens when returns are higher than new shipments, which is a rare scenario but still occurs when an album is hyped around the Christmas season and is expected to sell for many months, as was the case with Invincible.

I gave consolation prizes for the previous two cases. Which one would fit with this new example? Quite an easy one, this album is the only one regarded as a huge bomb while all the others are regarded as albums in the good sellers to absolute blockbusters range. Certainly that tells you something about Michael Jackson’s level of popularity.

Celine Dion – A New Day Has Come (2002)

Claimed Sales – 12,000,000
Estimated Sales – 9,400,000

One more “it must have got there” case. In fact, the album was a huge seller in 2002. It completed the IFPI year end chart on 7,9 million copies shipped. Surely, it must have got there? Well, it still hasn’t.

If you check carefully her France Album Sales article, you will notice this album shifted 87% of its to date sales during 2002 alone. It isn’t an isolated case, quite the opposite as France is one of the few countries where the album entered 2003 while it was still inside the Top 40 as in most markets it was big from March to October. In the US, the album was out of the Top 100 before the end of 2002. One may argue its soundscan sales jumped from 2,645,000 during that year to over 3,3 million by now, a 26% addition. Adding those 26% to 7,9 million would be inaccurate as that latter figure was about shipments and as the album was still active, in early 2003 the album was certified at 3 million sales, meaning once again some 87% of its 3,45 million shipments to date were done during 2002.

In the meantime, Celine Dion joined Mariah Carey with two entries on the list!

Britney Spears – In The Zone (2003)

Claimed Sales – 10,000,000
Estimated Sales – 7,400,000

If there is one group of die hard fans truly fighting as much as possible for their favorite artist, that is the group of Britney Spears fans.

Myself, I’ve seen at least four times emails / PMs screenshots posted on forums supposedly coming from me, giving out inflated figures for some country or another. They were Photoshopped screens as they were mails / PMs I never sent. In the same way, Freddy, the webmaster of Mediatraffic, copied all my estimates onto his website’s all-time best selling albums lists, but for the couple of Britney Spears albums on it he voluntarily inflated them. I often have fun about Wikipedia’s accuracy and did so in this very message, but they have been putting a lot of effort into fixing a lot of delusional claims. Still, Britney Spears’ discography page is showing her debut Baby One More Time on 30 million, her second Oops! I Did It Again on 25 million, Britney at 15 million and In The Zone at 10 million, all figures inflated by a massive 30%.

With such context, the hardest part for the artist fans’ is to not become delusional. The propaganda is so strong that when official facts finally come out like IFPI figures they are mocked as inaccurate.

What about In The Zone then? It was the 8th top seller worldwide in 2003, a year that saw only five albums selling upwards of 5 million units. Then in 2004, it was outside the Top 50 when the cut was on 2 million units. That puts a roof at 7 million at the very best up to the end of 2004. By that time, it was on 2,893,000 units scanned in the US, while to date it is up to 3,0 million. In other words, it doesn’t sell a thing as a catalog album. To be honest, I even consider my 7,4 million estimate up to date rather optimistic!

Madonna – Confessions On A Dance Floor (2005)

Claimed Sales – 12,000,000
Estimated Sales – 9,400,000

After Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, it is Madonna’s turn to get her second entry in this listing!

For such a successful comeback, it would be much nicer to argue it shifted 10 million worldwide. In reality this album was the 6th most shipped of 2005 worldwide with 6,3 million units and was out of 2006’s Top 50, again with a cut at slightly more than 2 million.

The album was at least enjoying some decent catalog sales until late 2009 when Celebration was released. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 it charted inside the UK Top 200 album chart for example. Ironically, I mentioned on the page of her debut album that it would have reached 10 million if The Immaculate Collection was released later. This story repeats itself again!

Mariah Carey – The Emancipation Of Mimi (2005)

Claimed Sales – 12,000,000
Estimated Sales – 9,100,000

She did it! Mariah Carey gets a third – and this time last – entry among this club of non-10 million selling albums which are claimed as such.

This one was very quickly claimed as being over 10 million, as early as in late 2005 when it closed the year as the top selling album in the US with nearly 5 million scanned sales.

Worldwide, the album was the runner up to the Coldplay set X&Y, selling 7,7 million units. While The Emancipation Of Mimi was still in the Top 10 at the end of 2005 in the US and at the beginning of 2006, it is almost what prevents it from being a 10 million seller. Indeed, the album had a last whisper in early 2006 when it sat for two months inside the Top 20, but it was selling all the copies shipped in excess during the past Christmas season. Then when additional shipments would have been needed again, the album collapsed from #7 to #84 within two months.

The 1,05 million copies sold in the US from 2006 to date requested at most some 700,000 copies shipped. With 7,7 million copies sold during 2005 and such a weak number since in the country representing more than two thirds of its total sales, the 10 million barrier is still far away.

50 Cent – The Massacre (2005)

Claimed Sales – 13,000,000
Estimated Sales – 8,600,000

2005 was truly a year busy with blockbusters that almost made it to the 10 million mark but never completed the mark. There are still several albums which did it (Nickelback‘s All The Right Reasons, Coldplay‘s X&Y, Black Eyed PeasMonkey Business and Eminem‘s Curtain Call) but not the last three studied here.

The Massacre has been commercially pretty similar to  the Mariah Carey album above. Both albums were released in early 2005 selling the bulk of their copies inside that calendar year. Both sold similar amounts for the year in the US (4,97 million to 4,85 million with the lead  in favour of Mariah Carey) and Worldwide (7,7 million to 7,5 million again in Mariah Carey’s favour).

Unlike The Emancipation Of Mimi, The Massacre was dead in early 2006 having already fallen out of the Top 100. It means the album had fewer unsold copies out of its 2005 shipment, but also that it sold less. In fact, it added only 520,000 copies to its Soundscan tally from the start of 2006 to date. The album had a bit more longevity outside the US thanks to the rapper’s worldwide tour, which explains why it adds 1,1 million copies shipped despite the relatively low US figure. All in all, it remains nowhere near the 13 million figure that is widely reported in every news piece about the artist.

Rihanna – Good Girl Gone Bad (2007)

Claimed Sales – 15,000,000
Estimated Sales – 9,100,000

Here comes the first example of a new generation of ignorance. The general public has no idea about Track / Streaming Equivalent stories. Even chart forum members will consider every major publication stating “the album xx sold yy million copies” as being related to pure album sales. Not anymore!

I picked the Rihanna album Good Girl Gone Bad first because it’s the oldest album that has been getting these kind of marketing tricks, and also because I already detailed the artist’s sales for both pure album sales (9,1 million) and overall equivalence (14,4 million). The label figure of 15 million stands roughly the same as the figure I published but without physical single sales – they forgot they exist – and DVDs shares, but with Youtube video streaming, which brings in notable numbers. I voluntarily exclude those views as due to the value gap they bring no value at all to the music industry.

One more recent example of such a communication tip has been Ed Sheeran’s album X, widely reported as a 10 million seller while it was just over 6 million. The artist had the honesty to publish below a breakdown on his Instagram account: