Chart Beat

Billboard Announces New Rules For Merchandise/Album Bundles


Billboard is changing the rules to its album charts, affecting the way sales will be counted on those tallies in respect to merchandise bundles. The new rules go into effect Jan. 3, 2020.

Moving forward, in order for an album sale to be counted as part of a merchandise/album bundle, all the items in the bundle must also be available for purchase concurrently and individually on the same website. In addition, the merchandise item sold on its own will have to be priced lower than the bundle which includes both the merchandise and the album. Further, merchandise bundles can only be sold in an artist's official direct-to-consumer web store and not via third-party sites.

Regarding the Jan. 3, 2020, start date, all album releases from that date onward must adhere to the new rules, even if the bundles went on-sale before then. Likewise, for already released albums, those looking to count further sales on the albums charts from must also adhere to the new rules from Jan. 3, 2020, onward.

Under current rules and moving forward, any approved piece of merchandise that is clearly artist- or album-branded can be bundled with a copy of the album, with those sales counting for the charts when the physical album is shipped to the customer or when the digital album is fulfilled to the customer. However, the merchandise/album bundle must be priced at least $3.49 more than the merchandise item alone. ($3.49 is the minimum price of an album to qualify for the charts.)

The changes come as bundles have been at the center of a public debate around the Billboard albums charts, with many arguing these bundled album sales do not reflect customers' true interest in purchasing the album, but, rather, the merchandise it’s packaged with. The new rules look to address that concern, by offering customers the option to purchase the merchandise with or without the album.

The new policies do not affect albums that are part of a concert ticket/album sale redemption offer bundle, where the price of an album is part of the cost of a ticket and the album's inclusion is promoted to the customer at the beginning of their purchase experience. Then, after purchasing the ticket, the customer will receive an offer to redeem the album and have it mailed to them or to download it. Only the albums that are redeemed count toward Billboard's charts, indicating a desire by a consumer to receive the album.

The sales strategy of album bundles is decades-old, but in recent years the practice has become increasingly popular as the industry tries to find new ways to sell albums -- as customers are buying fewer albums in favor of streaming their favorite new releases. 

Year to date in 2019 (through Nov. 21), album sales have fallen 19% compared to the same point a year ago. And, for the full year of 2018, album sales dropped by 17.7% to 141 million -- the lowest number of albums sold in a year since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking sales in 1991.

Many artists have taken advantage of bundle offers, with nearly every No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart now getting a boost by a bundle. Among the artists who topped the Billboard 200 in 2019 thanks in part to bundling efforts (either via a ticket bundle or a merchandise bundle, or both): Celine Dion, Luke Combs, Kanye West, SuperM, Post Malone, Taylor Swift, Madonna, NF, Tyler, the Creator, Billie Eilish, Khalid, Jonas Brothers, Vampire Weekend, Ariana Grande, Thomas Rhett and Backstreet Boys.