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Taylor Swift (Jamie Lamor Thompson /

Counting Sales (& Bundles!)

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Ben Sisario:

Counting CD and track sales is like toting up the number of feature phone purchases. We live in an era of streaming and smartphones, why does the music industry insist on holding on to the past?

This is how hip-hop ended up victorious, by moving online, by embracing Soundcloud, by using the new tools and giving away product in the process.

But no, the music industry still sells CDs and files, even though most people no longer have a CD player, they don’t even come in cars, and Apple killed the iPod.

Actually, Apple was famous for killing old formats. Killing ADB for USB. Leaving out the floppy drive. Steve Jobs did not worry about the complainers in the background, he just soldiered on.

And now Apple is the most valuable company on the planet, or close to it, depending on the daily stock market.

Ironically, the present Apple killed the 20 pin port for Lightning, even though every hotel room had that connector built into the room radio, and even switched to USB-C on the new iPad Pro, but…for some reason, their Music app still works with both files and streams, which makes it confusing, which Jobs abhorred. It was supposed to just work, be easy, require no manual, but I still can’t figure out how to make sure my search is of streams not files, and it makes me reluctant to use the app.

Steve Jobs. Everyone says he was anti-streaming, all about sales.

Believe me, Jobs would be behind streaming today, making it even more convenient, because Jobs was willing to admit he was wrong, and change and leave the past behind. But many musicians still refuse to believe streaming has won, it’s been demonized, it can’t be sold after the show…it’s like bitching you can’t sell standard transmissions when even Formula One cars have no clutch.

And the internet/tech works on a different ethos than the traditional music business. The facts are real, and the war is even more intense. Record companies can always depend on their catalogs for revenue, in tech it’s purely what have you done for me lately, and if you haven’t done anything, soon you’re no longer a player. Can you say Blackberry and Gateway and…

Streams can be quantified. They’re harder to fake. Of course, people are always trying to scam, but there are algorithms to check that too. Ah, the glory of the machine.

In other words, it’s easy to add up how many streams a track has. They’re even visible on Spotify and YouTube. And streams are raw consumption, a true judge of popularity, whereas if something is sold, you don’t know how many times a purchaser listened to it. Furthermore, with streams, you get paid forever, while with sales, it’s one and done. Do you want to invest in yourself or sell out now and forget your future?

The “Billboard” charts have been manipulated from day one. Sure, SoundScan added some truthiness, but still, shenanigans were prevalent.

And “Billboard” could change its chart overnight.

Then again, what makes the “Billboard” chart worth anything anyway, their special sauce? Why do you need Nielsen to tote up what is easily seen online?

So what you’ve got is a trade magazine, servicing the trade.

So, there should be no attention paid to “Billboard”‘s numbers.

But they’re distributed by media outlets as if they mean something when the truth is they don’t mean anything.

Sure, it’s all about the add-ons, but who was the wanker who approved this to begin with? What are we counting here, marketing efforts or music consumption, this needed to be nipped in the bud.

And “Billboard” could have done it, but NO, it was afraid to piss off the labels and the acts, who do very little advertising anyway, “Billboard” is now a consumer-facing product, why does it keep one foot in the past? Hell, why don’t you pay fealty to retailers, Best Buy doesn’t even sell CDs anymore, not that I’ve been to an outlet in years, why, when there’s Amazon.

We need to wave a wand and immediately go to streaming totals to determine popularity. Leave all sales behind. That’s how Steve Jobs would have done it!

But the truth is the labels like it this way, they kick and scream as they add tchotchkes and manipulate the chart themselves.

Hell, the government nearly eradicated the Mafia, but the music business is still run like organized crime. These are public companies, why so much subterfuge?

Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note: the comments are not edited for grammar or content.

Here’s my take on albums bundled with ticket sales. First thing to note, TicketMaster refer to it as a “forced bundle”. This is because the customer has no option to decline the bundle. They have to pay the same as everyone else, then they can choose not to redeem. Billboard is aware of this and thus only counts redeemed albums, their rules involve the customer having to take action to redeem. If all purchasers received an album directly whether handed out physically at a show or sent digitally as files Billboard would not count it. There has to be a decision to redeem.

All that said, from the customer perspective they don’t think “Oh, I get my ticket and the album only cost me $5 extra averaged across all redemptions”. The customer thinks “Cool, free album”.

As we all know ticket pricing is one of the toughest jobs for a promoter and any tour. If you Price too low you’ve got an instant sellout but all of that extra demand goes to the secondary market. Revenue not going to the artist who created the demand or the promoter who is taking the risk. Price the tickets too high and you don’t sell all the seats. There can be unrest by the fans on social media about the high prices and if ticket prices aren’t corrected quickly the show could end up not selling out and possibly losing money for the promoter.

I bring all of this up because the record labels try to sell the forced bundle as “it’s easy, just add $5 to every ticket.” But if we thought the tickets would sell for $5 more they would already be at that price.

So, in reality, the $5 is just a deduction off the box office. 12,000 tickets at an arena, $60,000 charge for the album.  50 shows in a tour and someone just spent $3,000,000 buying albums. The record companies couldn’t be happier with that arrangement.  All they need to do is get their Artist to agree to the album bundle and they just sold 600,000 albums.  No marketing on their part, the promoter has to market the tour, no real effort to sell those albums other than to ensure a smooth redemption process (usually outsourced to TM).  And they just sold $3,000,000 worth of albums.  So who is paying that money?

Billboard and the labels like to think the customer is paying it, it’s in the ticket right? But as stated above the tickets are priced what they can sell for, and there is no perceived added value for the album. That money would be in the show gross with or without the album bundle. That means that assuming a tour is in percentage the Artist is left paying the bill for their own albums. Or at least 90% of it (assuming a 90/10 split with the promoter). But if the tour is not in percentage the promoter is left paying that bill. Knowing this risk is there most promoters are now pushing to keep Album Bundles out of the deal entirely. Which means this cost is left entirely on the Artist. Which at the end of the day means the Artist is actually buying their own albums.

Craig Sneiderman

Sr Vice President Touring

Concerts West


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