WINNER OF THE WEEK: Amazon. Every time the online retailer stamps a ridiculous price on an MP3 album, like Lady Gaga's 99-cent Born This Way a couple weeks ago, or albums by Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend last year, sales push the album into Billboard's Top 10. This week's example: the Book of Mormon soundtrack, co-written by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. (It's lewd and funny, but it's no "Kyle's Mom's a Big Fat Bitch.") The Broadway show's nine Tony Awards (after 14 nominations) on Sunday gave it a huge TV profile, of course, but Amazon's four-day, $1.99 sale and corresponding Twitter marketing ultimately boosted it to 61,000 sales and Number Three. (The soundtrack had languished on the charts, opening at 13,000 and Number 31 three weeks ago, when it was digital-only.) It seems like we're getting even closer to the point that an artist, manager or record executive doesn't have to be independently wealthy to buy a ton of copies of an album and achieve the Top 10. This week, all anybody would need is $122,000 to make Number Three. Sure, there's risk involved, but big-time gamblers lose that much all the time. Hey, rich people: Rather than betting on blackjack, why not take chances on indie rockers and Broadway soundtracks?
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Lady Gaga. You can't really do more to market an album than Lady Gaga did for Born This Way, and her single "The Edge of Glory" is still near the top of Billboard's singles chart (Number Seven), iTunes (Number Four, after Adele, Pitbull and LMFAO) and BigChampagne's Ultimate Chart (Number Three). But her album sold just 100,000 copies in Week Three. This is the world's biggest pop superstar? Yes, she sold more than one million in her first week, but she needed Amazon's dirt-cheap promotion to do it. The Wall Street Journal asked Gaga if she thought Born This Way was worth more than 99 cents, and she responded: "No! I absolutely do not. Especially for MP3s and digital music. It's invisible – it's in space. If anything I applaud a company like Amazon for equating the value of digital versus the physical copy, and giving the opportunity to everyone to buy music." Now that was a smart answer, and one that contradicts what record executives and record-store chains have been saying for years – that drastic discounts cheapen music. No doubt Gaga understands the realities they talk about over at TopSpin, which is that cheap or free music leads to greater connections with fans, whose loyalty leads them to buy more stuff later. (That said, Amazon took the loss on the 99-cent promotion – Gaga, and her record label, still got the royalties they would have received if Amazon had sold the album at full price.)
IN THE ON-DECK CIRCLE: Pay attention to Pitbull's Planet Pit, due next Tuesday, with production by super-hot Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, RedOne and others, plus cameos by Chris Brown, T-Pain, Marc Anthony and Sean Paul, which covers pretty much all the demos. Somebody decided this is the veteran Miami rapper's time – his single "Give Me Everything," with Ne-Yo's sweet voice layered on top of Pitbull's growl, is Number Two on iTunes, Billboard and the Ultimate Chart. It's hard to predict anything will knock Adele out of Number One these days, but Pitbull has a chance. Besides, what's his competition next week? "Weird Al" Yankovic? Michael-freaking-Bolton?
LAST WEEK: Lady Gaga Shows Signs of Weakness