Ask Billboard: Album Volume Reaches Record Low
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Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.

ALBUM VOLUME REACHES RECORD LOW

Hi Gary!

I'm writing from Israel (yes, people read you everywhere!), and I really like reading (more like analyzing) your column every week! I hope you can answer my questions and shed some light on the current state of the music industry.

After seeing that "Glee: the Music, Volume 3: Showstoppers" is atop the Billboard 200 for a second week with 63,000 units sold, and realizing that the sum is one of the lowest for a No. 1 in the history of Nielsen SoundScan, I began to wonder, where would that figure rank, say, this week in 2000? Would an album with 63,000 sold then have cracked the top 10? The top 20?

On a related note, if the best-selling album of the week moved "only" 63,000 copies, what does it take to enter the Billboard 200 at No. 200? Charting on the Billboard 200 is certainly an achievement, but what are the numbers behind a ranking at even the chart's lowest position? What did the No. 200 title this week sell, and what was the corresponding sales for the same position the first week of June 2000?

Thank you so much,

Matan Cohen
Ashdod, Israel

Hi Matan,

Shalom! Thank you for the kind words from across the globe.

As Billboard 200 chart manager Keith Caulfield writes in this week's print issue of Billboard (June 12), "the continuing woes of the album market are amplified this week as sales volume falls to just 4.9 million, the lowest in Nielsen SoundScan's archives, which date back to January 1994."

Ed Christman's piece posted earlier today on billboard.com further delves into the ongoing album sales slump. "By comparison," writes Christman, "the highest one-week tally recorded during the SoundScan era is 45.4 million albums, in late December 2000."

As previously reported, overall album sales in the chart week (ending May 30) are down 13% compared to the corresponding sales week in 2009 (5.8 million). Year-to-date album sales are 125.4 million, down 11% compared to the same total at this point last year (140.2 million), according to SoundScan.

As Caulfield summarizes, "this week's round of dismal numbers is an unsurprising result of a depressed economy combined with dwindling album sales and a sparse release schedule."

From what chart-related heights have album sales fallen in 10 years? Get ready for quite a difference.

The Billboard 200 dated June 10, 2000, provides a startling contrast to the current chart 10 years later. This week, the third full "Glee" soundtrack logs the seventh-lowest sales total for a No. 1 in the 19-year SoundScan era. Exactly 10 years ago, Eminem posted the third-highest sum in that span, when "The Marshall Mathers LP" blasted in with 1.7 million sold.

In fact, each album in the top 10 this week in June 2000 sold at least 100,000 copies. Rounding out the top three, Britney Spears ranked at No. 2 with "Oops!...I Did It Again" (612,000) and matchbox twenty placed at No. 3 with "Mad Season" (365,000).

Per your question, where would an album that sold 63,000 copies have ranked 10 years ago this week? No. 23.

A clear trend follows in analyzing the past five years. Five years ago this week, 63,000 units would have translated to a No. 14 ranking. This week in 2006, such a total would have placed at No. 11; in 2007, No. 7; in 2008, No. 4; and, last year, No. 3.

Granted, Eminem provided an abnormal spike this week a decade ago, and, as Caulfield has pointed out, the recent album release slate has been short on major star power, a run that should begin to reverse with next week's expected No. 1 bow of Jack Johnson's "To the Sea" - predicted to sell 250,000 copies in its first week - and upcoming sets by Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Eminem, Sarah McLachlan and Ozzy Osbourne, among others.

As for simply reaching the Billboard 200, the No. 200 title this week is, interestingly enough, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," which extends its chart longevity record with a 764th frame on the list. The set sold 3,000 copies this week, according to SoundScan.

Five years ago this week, the No. 200 title sold 5,000 copies. Ten years ago this week, the album at the chart's anchor spot sold 6,000, thus, twice as much as this week's No. 200-selling album.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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