Taylor Swift's new album, "Red," didn't set the record for most units sold in its debut week, but could end up being the most dominant album in terms of share of annual album sales.
"Red" sold 1.208 million in its first week of release. As the list below shows, the set doesn't even make the list of top five first-week album sales of all time, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Here the top five albums with their year of release and the number of units sold in the first week.
-- 'N Sync: "No Strings Attached" (2000) 2.416 million
-- 'N Sync: "Celebrity" (2001) 1.88 million
-- Eminem: "The Marshall Mathers LP" (2000) 1.76 million
-- Backstreet Boys: "Black & Blue" (2000) 1.591 million
-- Eminem: "The Eminem Show" (2002) 1.322 million
With the way album sales have decline over the last 12 years, it's hard to imagine 'N Sync's record will be beat. But the fact that album sales have declined underscores just how impressive some recent albums have been. If album sales continue at their current pace (they're down about 3.6% through Oct. 28), U.S. consumers will buy 318.8 million albums in 2012. That's just 40.6% of the 785.1 million albums purchased in 2000, the year of 'N Sync's "No Strings Attached," Britney Spears' "Oops!... I Did It Again" and Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water."
One way to compare relative strength of albums' first-week sales in different eras is to compare their shares of annual album sales. When measured this way, the first-week sales of "Red" could have the most dominant market share of all time. Assuming album sales stay on their current pace, the 1.208 million units "Red" sold last week will account for 0.00038% of 2012 album sales. That will be slightly more than the share achieved by Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" last year and also ahead of Swift's previous studio album, the 2010 release "Speak Now." 'N Sync's top two albums have smaller shares because there were so many more albums being purchased in 2000 and 2001.
Here are the top five first-week album sales figures ranked by share of annual album sales:
-- Taylor Swift: "Red" (2012) 0.00038% (estimate)
-- Lady Gaga: "Born This Way" (2011) 0.00034%
-- Taylor Swift: "Speak Now" (2010) 0.00032%
-- 'N Sync: "No Strings Attached" (2000) 0.00031%
-- 'N Sync: "Celebrity" (2001) 0.00025%
Measuring an albums' market share shouldn't be a diversion. The point of the record business is to generate sales. But the industry is vastly different today than it was in 2000. It's helpful to use different metrics to reflect that change. To the extent people are still buying albums, last week they bought "Red" in record percentages. Typical sales numbers don't reflect that fact.