Album premieres have been a common event at MySpace, which in the recent past has debuted exclusives from artists such as Coldplay, Oasis and Guns N' Roses. But, judging from numbers recorded over many months, MySpace users care less about listening to an entire album than their counterparts who use other services like Lala and Last.fm.

At MySpace, a random sample of 23 albums of various genres reveals listener retention sharply decreases beyond the first track. (MySpace's count tracks a song whether it is streamed at the artist’s page or the album’s page. MySpace launched album pages in late February. Album premieres that receive prominent placement at MySpace Music take visitors to the artist’s page.) In contrast, a sample of 30 albums at Lala shows a drop in listening, but its users tend to listen to complete albums with far greater frequency.

The retention ratio (defined below) for MySpace album streams drops sharply and stays above 0.33 for only the first four songs. Pop-up ads that impede uninterrupted streaming tend to occur after the fourth song. The retention ratio for the fifth song drops to 0.199, is 0.103 by the ninth song and 0.005 by the 15th. The average number of tracks in the sample was just under 14. About 13% of listeners made it halfway through the album while just 7% got to track 14.

In contrast, listeners at Lala are much more album-centric. The fifth track had a retention ratio of 0.579, almost three times as great as the fifth track in the MySpace sample. The retention ratio for the sixth track was 0.53 and 0.357 for the 13th track. The average number of tracks in the Lala sample was about 12.5.

The samples were taken from albums of multiple genres and trends were very similar regardless of the music's genre. In some instances, an album premiere included a song that had been posted on that artist's MySpace page on an earlier date. Those were occasionally singles receiving airplay and videoplay, which would result in a disproportionate number of streams. Nothing more than an earlier release would put one song out of sync with the other songs in the album premiere. As not to skew the results, those outliers were not included in the calculations. In addition, graphs extend to only 15 songs since most albums do not have many more than 11 or 12 songs.

In November 2008, Guns N' Roses debuted its album "Chinese Democracy" on its MySpace page. At one point on the first day of availability (Nov. 19) the first track had accumulated 261,461 streams, the second track had 140,970 streams, the third track had 116,038 streams and the fourth track had 117,764 streams. For tracks two through four, the retention ratios were 0.54, 0.44 and 0.45. The album has 14 tracks and the retention ratio declines to 0.21, 0.23 and 0.19 for the final three songs. On Nov. 22, The final track’s retention ratio had improved to 0.20 and the second through fourth tracks had similar retention ratios: 0.53, 0.53 and 0.42. On the evening of Nov. 22, the first track had been streamed 1.35 million times and the last track had 275,000 streams.



A retention ratio of 0.19 is indeed low, but all other albums in this small sample had lower ratios. Take, for example, the album "Electric Arguments" by the Fireman, a duo consisting of Paul McCartney and Youth. Little attention was given beyond the album's first song. On Nov. 22, three days after it went live on MySpace, the album's final two songs both had a retention ratio of 0.11. By the fifth song, the retention ratio had dropped to 0.23 and the song had accumulated only 6,685 streams. In a similar amount of time, the fifth song on Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy" had been streamed 459,576 times.

A similar trend was seen for Andrew Bird, an album-oriented artist with a small but fervent following. By the time the first track of his new album, "Noble Beast," had accumulated 10,556 streams, the second track had only 4,673 streams (a 0.44 retention ratio) and the 14th track had 740 streams (a 0.07 retention ratio). These streams were recorded on January 15, 2009, five days before the album was released.

The fading interest of Bird's listeners at MySpace is not reflected in the purchases. Through the week ending May 10, "Noble Beast" had sold 99,000 units, 43,000 of them as digital downloads. All of the album's 14 tracks had combined for 61,000 units. Nor is the lack of interest at MySpace seen in the frequency of the songs' listens by Last.fm users. While the album's first song had the most streams, 31,800, eight of the album's 14 tracks had a retention ratio over 0.70. And though the last song dropped to 0.433, the previous two had retention ratios of 0.685 and 0.648.



The retention ratios for "Noble Beast" at Last.fm indicate listeners have some favorite tracks (heard on playlists, for example) but tend to start at the first song and listen continuously. Given all these numbers, it is clear Bird's fans are album-oriented as well as digitally active consumers. In the correct venue (Lala, Last.fm) they are more likely to listen to the complete album. In a poor venue (MySpace) they are more likely to sample a few songs.

Through the week ending May 10, "Chinese Democracy" has sold 578,000 units, according to SoundScan, while sales of individual tracks totaled 290,000 units. (The album is available only at Best Buy stores and BestBuy.com in the U.S. The exclusive aspect of this title and the strength of Best Buy's physical stores probably resulted in fewer individual track sales.) For the six-month period ending May 19, 2009, the top track at Last.fm from "Chinese Democracy" was "Chinese Democracy" with 96,600 plays. The track with the fewest plays was "I.R.S." with 33,916 – a retention ratio of 0.351. That is very close to the retention ratio for the 14th song of the Lala sample, 0.357. The 14th song of the MySpace Music sample has a retention ratio of only 0.07.

MySpace Music users may tend to buy albums. They may listen to an album's songs in manners similar to trends seen at Lala and Last.fm. Given these numbers, however, MySpace Music does not appear to be a venue that encourages listening to albums.


* The retention ratio for each track is its number of listens represented as a fraction of the first song. For example, a typical third song of an album gets about one-third the listens as the first song. For each track number, an average of this ratio was taken across all albums. The ratio for track one is 1.0, the ratio for track two is 0.50, the radio for track three is 0.31, and so on.