Taylor Swift, no. 1 again, is last to benefit from an obscure chart rule

Ben Sisario, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 11 2020 10:37 AM

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Taylor Swift, who holds the No. 1 album for a second time with “Folklore,” may be one of the last stars to benefit from Billboard’s so-called bundling rule, which lets artists sell albums with merchandise or concert tickets. Long criticized for distorting the charts, that guideline is set to be curtailed in October.

But Swift is also the last to gain an advantage from a lesser-known chart rule, one that is a bit of a brain-twister: the bundling of a physical album with a digital one.

Billboard has long tried to reconcile the delays that can happen when a fan orders a physical copy of an album, like a vinyl LP, from an artist’s website. With release cycles moving faster than ever these days, records and CDs are sometimes not ready to ship when a new title starts streaming; in the case of vinyl, backlogs of weeks or even months are common. So artists often combine the sale of a physical album and a digital version, and send fans the digital one while they wait.

Until recently, Billboard and Nielsen Music, which supplies the magazine’s data, have counted the first version sent to fans. For an album like “Folklore,” with CDs and LPs not available right away, that meant the digital copy.

But this rule, which was meant to register fan purchases during an album’s all-important opening week — and also prevent double counting — has a host of complications, including undercounting physical product. Last year, Nielsen counted just 73.5 million physical album sales in the United States. How much higher is the real number, if many delayed vinyl and CDs were categorized as digital instead?

Effective Friday, Billboard changed how it accounts for physical albums that are bundled with digital versions. Those sales will now be counted as physical copies — but only once the album is shipped to a fan. That may be a blow to the opening-week numbers for an artist like Swift, as collectible items make their way to fans later on. And it will further advantage streaming activity.

In the second week out for “Folklore,” Swift still offered her fans lots of merch deals. But of the 135,000 sales that Billboard and Nielsen recorded for the album — down 84 percent from its opening — the majority were attributed to streaming. Songs from the album were streamed 134 million times, while 30,000 copies of it were sold as a complete package.

Also this week, two posthumous albums — Pop Smoke’s “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon” and Juice WRLD’s “Legends Never Die” — are No. 2 and No. 3. The “Hamilton” Broadway cast album is No. 4, and Lil Baby’s “My Turn” is No. 5.

Beyoncé’s album “The Lion King: The Gift,” a companion to Disney’s 2019 film, re-entered the chart at No. 10, after she put out a deluxe version of the LP with the release of “Black Is King,” her new visual album on Disney+.

 
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