Album and track sales are down 13 percent this year. Apple may bundle Beats Music with its iOS on iPhones and iPads early next year. YouTube just launched its new streaming service. Spotify made a deal with Uber. Billboard will soon change its charts to reflect streaming data. Need any more evidence that sales are down and streaming is up? Taylor Swift‘s crusade against Spotify seems increasingly temporary.
MAN MIGHT BE LOSING THIS ROUND: Let’s take a break from you know who for a while and focus on Numbers Two, Three and Four—Foo Fighters‘ Sonic Highways pulled in 190,000 copies, about what you’d expect from a contemporary rock band; Pink Floyd‘s The Endless River wasn’t far behind with 170,000; and Garth Brooks‘ triumphant comeback, Man Against Machine, sold 130,000. That last figure is especially interesting because Brooks has blocked his music not just from Spotify but also from iTunes throughout the entire digital age, forcing fans to buy the album via old-fashioned record shops and his inexplicable new download store GhostTunes. The meager first-week sales count suggests Brooks’ strategy backfired – aging stars who haven’t put out albums for years can certainly use renewed discovery via music services with millions of customers.
AND NOW, BACK TO TAYLOR SWIFT: Everybody made a big deal about 1989 becoming the first album released this year to sell 1 million copies. After three weeks, it hit 2 million – 312,000 this week, more than enough for it to stick to Number One on Billboard‘s album chart. If other pop stars want to borrow from Swift’s hit-making formula (other than, you know, “be Taylor Swift”), they might check out her marketing strategy. She released one hot single and strong video after another, and each has ascended the Digital Songs chart to coincide with sales of 1989. This week, “Blank Space” rises 100 percent in sales, with 328,000 downloads, jumping to Number One.
THE GOOD AND BAD OF THE NEW BILLBOARD CHART SYSTEM: I’m in favor of Billboard trying to reflect the transitional record business by adding Spotify-style streaming to its ranking criteria for the album charts, effective with the December 4th report. But the other part of the change – adding “track-equivalent-album” data – is inexplicable. That means every time people buy 10 separate singles from an album, the bundle counts as one album sale. When counting streaming data, it’s hard to avoid an emphasis on songs. But counting track-equivalent downloads seems like a way for Billboard to let singles-heavy artists (Katy Perry, say) have more of a presence on the album charts.