Rubbish Alert: the inaccuracy of Forbes

Now that I’m covering the nonsense which is being said here and there about Taylor Swift‘s mega-hyped new album let me point out more piece bad press on that subject. We can allow bloggers or small entities to make mistakes at times, but when you are named Forbes the expectations are that your content is carefully written and fully accurate. They have a reputation to back up afterall.

They covered the news of the biggest album release in the US with an article titled Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ Outsold Every Other Album On The Billboard 200 Combined. So far it’s ok, the title is accurate. The content though goes one step too far.

Here’s some context for how incredible the first-week total is: reputation sold north 1.2 million units in its first measured week. The other 199 albums on the Billboard 200 combined sold only 723,000 units when streaming consumption and song sales are excluded (only four tracks from reputation are available on streaming services).

In functional terms this is nonsense. We have known for years now how all formats of sales – CDs, downloads, streams – depend on one another. An album not available for streaming, say Beyonce‘s Lemonade, will have its pure album sales boosted. On the flip side, when Kanye West‘s The Life of Pablo is available via streaming-only it does wonders there. Thus, it is fundamentally wrong to compare results excluding song sales and streaming consumption of albums that are available everywhere with a sales-only release.

Everyone isn’t an expert in covering media news, although the author of the article Brittany Hodak, does describe herself as an entertainment entrepreneur covering music, TV & pop – so we can close our eyes with this kind of misinterpretation. Pure technical mistakes are embarrassing though:

That means for every 10 albums sold last week, more than six of them were reputation.

Well, no, it doesn’t mean that. It means reputation sold more than 60% of the Top 200’s total, which isn’t the same at all as selling more than 60% of every album sold last week. Adding downloads, CDs and LPs, there have been 77,6 million albums sold in the US during the first half of the year. That’s an average of 2,95 million albums sold per week. As we are getting closer to Christmas the current tally must easily exceed that 3 million mark without factoring in Swift. Adding her numbers it implies she was responsible for less than 3 sales for every 10 albums sold last week. Hugely impressive for sure but well short of Forbes’ claim.

The lack of accuracy continues:

When streaming and digital track sales are included, reputation still accounts for more than a third of all music consumption in the United States last week. Total consumption of all albums in the Top 200 was 3.3 million album equivalent units, of which 1.24 million were Swift’s.

Once again Forbes makes the same error. More than a third of the Top 200 total is nowhere near the same as more than a third of all music consumption in the United States last week. I’m sure they know there have been more than 200 albums that have ever been released. The ratio between the top 200 and the full market is 1 to 4 in sales (723,000 vs over 3 million), and it becomes clearly bigger with downloads and streams as they are spread over far more titles than pure album sales. With some 2,1 million equivalent album sales from the remaining 199 titles of the BB200 we can then expect at least 10 million from the entire market without reputation. This puts her share of all music consumption in the United States last week around 10% instead of more than a third.

After back-to-back technical mistakes the article concludes with more nonsense.

Even without making reputation available on streaming sites, Swift’s debut was enough to top total consumption of the previous three weeks’ Billboard No. 1 albums — from Sam Smith, Kenny Chesney and Niall Horan — by more than 1 million copies each. It also doubled that of the year’s second-best debut: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. notched 603,000 sales in April.

Even without making reputation available on streaming sites they say. It is thanks to the lack of availability on streaming sites that the album registered such a big splash sales-wise. If it was available on streaming platforms the total figure would have been much lower as streams require far more time to be fully converted into album sales. In fact, as reputation includes 15 tracks, and 1,500 streams are equivalent to 1 album sale, it requires you to listen to the album in full 100 times to account for 1 unit. With a standard release it is clear that reputation wouldn’t have a 1 million lead over the performance of Sam Smith nor a 2 to 1 advantage over Kendrick Lamar‘s Damn.

I know it’s very tempting for fans to quickly share these kind of articles as they glorify the results of their favorite artist. Sales of reputation are really massive and so there is no need for fake hyperboles to inflate them even more. Celebrate what really happened without falling into the trap of lies.

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