Every week I lament that album sales are dropping, even online, and the top-charting albums are making debuts with disturbingly low sales numbers. But maybe record labels don't even care. They're making up the difference with streaming! Or at least they hope to. A major-label executive who wished to remain anonymous declared that those $10-per-month Spotify Premium numbers are potentially more reliable and valuable than waiting for fans to buy stuff. "If you replaced all that download revenue with recurring revenue, it's a much healthier business," this source said last week. "It's predictable." Does that make everyone feel better about Katy Perry's 286,000 first-week sales?
HEAR HER ROAR?: Katy Perry's Prism unsurprisingly hit Number One in its first week, selling 286,000 copies. That's good news for Perry and for the week itself, which was otherwise weak, as Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt dropped from Number One to Number Two, selling just 46,000 copies, a decrease of 72 percent. But it's not especially great for the record industry's holiday season. Prism and Miley Cyrus' Bangerz were two of the big fall-quarter tentpoles – the others may be Lady Gaga, Eminem, Britney Spears and any megastar who decides at the last minute to drop a Christmas-week album – and neither broke gold in its first week. That's worrisome for record labels in a slow year in which track sales have fallen four percent and album sales have dropped seven percent.
FAREWELL, LOU: "Walk On the Wild Side" notwithstanding, Lou Reed rarely caught on at radio stations and record stores. Reed's Velvet Underground created the template for artists who were more influential than commercial, and over his five decades in the music business, he must have needed all those live shows in order to make his living. But after his death Sunday at age 71, his sales bumped like every other rock star after their passing. According to Nielsen SoundScan, his albums sold 3,000 copies on Sunday alone, an increase of 607 percent compared to the previous week, which totaled less than 1,000. His songs sold 17,000 downloads, a 590 percent increase from 2,000 in the previous week; the VU's song sales jumped from 1,000 to 5,000, an increase of 410 percent. The top titles? "Walk On the Wild Side" (6,000 downloads), the Transformer album (1,000 sales) and the VU's "Sweet Jane" (1,000 downloads) and The Velvet Underground & Nico (1,000 sales).
EMINEM TO THE RESCUE?: Eminem's "Rap God" slips from Number One to Number Nine on Billboard's Digital Singles chart. The single sold 106,000 copies, a drop of 61 percent. It's possible the criticism about homophobic lyrics in the song had something to do with it – maybe people felt comfortable streaming, but not purchasing, owing to some kind of liberal guilt – or maybe fans just don't like it as much as his first single, "Berzerk." It'll be interesting to see how The Marshall Mathers LP 2 sells when it comes out next Tuesday.
Last week: Pearl Jam Bolt to Number One