The initial Beatles sales figures are in: More than 450,000 albums and 2 million individual songs were sold on iTunes worldwide, according to Apple, since the Beatles catalog was made available Tuesday (Nov. 16). In U.S. the best-selling album was "Abbey Road" and best-selling song was "Here Comes the Sun."
Of that tally, U.S. album sales totaled 119,000 units, which included 13,000 digital box sets, while individual digital track sales reached 1.4 million, according to industry sources. Each digital box set included 13 studio albums, the two-volume “Past Masters” compilation and the “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964” concert film. Sources say the U.S. album sales tally of 119,000 counts each box set as one unit, while Apple’s worldwide album sales tally counts each box set as multiple sales units, although it wasn’t immediately clear how many units each box set accounted for.
The Fab Four’s debut-week sales on iTunes compare favorably with the first-week sales of previous iTunes holdouts. When Led Zeppelin’s catalog made its digital debut in November 2007, the band generated total U.S. digital album sales of 47,000 units, which included sales of 33,000 units of the two-volume hits compilation “Mothership,” which was released the same week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Led Zeppelin’s first-week individual track sales totaled 300,000, according to SoundScan.
But these numbers also show that digital music consumers aren't necessarily holding their breath to pounce on buying music when holdouts finally join the fray. Led Zeppelin's entire catalog may have generated digital track sales of 300,000, but Eminem’s digital track “Not Afraid” alone sold 379,000 units in the its debut week ended May 9, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
First-week digital track sales for superstar acts this year typically ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 per title, while digital album sales ranged anywhere from 40,000 to 278,000 for Taylor Swift’s blockbuster third album “Speak Now.”
Weekly U.S. digital track sales have averaged 21.7 million units so far in 2010, according to SoundScan. That means the Beatles’ first-week track sales equaled about 6.4% of all U.S. track sales for an average week. That’s more than Island Def Jam Group, Warner Bros. Records or Capitol Records each sold in the week ended Nov. 14, when their respective market shares were 5.6%, 5.3% and 4.5% and track sales totaled 21.3 million units, according to SoundScan.
The Beatles’ debut on iTunes was accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign, including prominent homepage placement on iTunes and TV spots that aired during Sunday’s American Music Awards broadcast on ABC, Sunday Night Football on NBC and other prime-time programming.
The iTunes marketing efforts likely helped boost overall sales of Beatles albums. During the week ended Nov. 14 (i.e. the week before the Nov. 16 debut of the Fabs’ iTunes debut), U.S. sales of Beatles albums totaled 20,000, while year-to-date, sales have averaged 23,000 a week, according to SoundScan.
Also helping boost sales of Beatles titles was Amazon’s aggressive discounting of all Beatles albums during the same week as their exclusive digital debut on iTunes. Amazon priced single-CD albums at $7.99, the double-disc album known as the “White Album” at $11.99 and EMI’s stereo and mono box sets at $130 each. By contrast, iTunes is selling individual Beatles albums for $12.99 each, the “White Album” for $19.99 and the digital box set for $150.
Sources say the Beatles/iTunes media campaign is expected to kick into high gear this for Black Friday, with expanded TV advertising in the U.S. and full-page ads in the “Wall Street Journal” and the “New York Times.”
-- Beatles On iTunes: The Story Behind the Deal 
-- Beatles Arrival at iTunes Prompts Mixed Web Reaction 
-- Beatles On iTunes: Digital Debut Could Boost Sales In All Formats 
-- The Beatles Catalog Finally Coming to iTunes 
-- A Look At First-Day Beatles Rankings on iTunes 
-- Five Things Missing From The Beatles/iTunes Deal 
-- Five Reasons Why The Beatles' Arrival On iTunes Still Matters 
-- Apple's iTunes Announcement Likely About Beatles Catalog 
-- Billboard Q&A with Paul McCartney (Sept. 12, 2009) 
-- Billboard Q&A with George Martin (July 19, 2008) 
-- Billboard Q&A with Paul McCartney (May 19, 2007)