Billboard starts the New Year off with new criteria for catalog albums on its sales charts. The first tracking week of 2008 also sees Nielsen SoundScan raising the profile of the Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands designated market area (DMA).

Under Billboard's new chart rules, albums that rank lower than No. 100 on The Billboard 200 will be deemed catalog 18 months after release. In the magazine's original catalog rules -- established in May 1991 when The Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums adopted Nielsen SoundScan data -- albums were considered catalog two years after release unless they still appeared on any Billboard album chart.

After the remainder of the magazine's charts converted to SoundScan data, Billboard revised catalog criteria in 1993, still using the two-year standard, but moving titles to catalog status if they no longer ranked No. 100 or higher on The Billboard 200.

Albums also retain current status if a single is still growing at a Nielsen BDS-monitored radio format, a stipulation that Billboard added in 2000. That rule, and the one that retains current consideration for albums in the top half of The Billboard 200, both continue with this shift to 18 months.

Billboard applied the two-year standard before Nielsen SoundScan began using 18 months to determine catalog strata in its marketing reports. Each of the four major distribution companies advocated a shorter window for Billboard's catalog rule. SoundScan also considers classical and jazz albums to be catalog after one year of release, but Billboard will use the 18-month rule for all albums, regardless of genre.

"This is a common-sense adjustment that brings our catalog charts and our current-albums charts more in line with the way that record companies and retailers view their business," says Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts.

The start of the year also prompts the shift of the Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands DMA. That market cluster previously showed up under Nielsen SoundScan's extended DMA reports and contributed to "Other Markets."

With this change, Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands, the 13th largest radio market, according to Arbitron, brings the number of DMA's featured by Nielsen SoundScan to 101.