After much thought and consultation with the industry, Billboard has decided to implement a new charting policy. Effective with the sales tracking week of November 21 through the 27th, which coincides with the Billboard charts dated December 10, any album that sells for less than $3.49 during the first four weeks of release will not count on our charts. Similarly, any track that sells for less than $0.39 during its first three months of release won’t count on our singles charts. If you’re interested, you can see the full new policy here.
Billboard has been innovating its chart policies for more than 50 years, from the days when the 45 was the only currency that mattered, through 8 tracks, cassettes, DVDs and digital tracks. And we’ll continue to innovate for decades to come. Whether you work with or are a fan of Madonna or Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga or Coldplay, it is your faith in our efforts to keep our charts credible that we work to honor every day. We are very proud that Web traffic to our most popular charts on Billboard.com has more than quadrupled since our relaunch in the summer of 2009.
As with any policy change, we here at Billboard considered this matter from all angles. Some of you may recall that just a few months ago, I offered up a note explaining why we were, in fact, counting Lady Gaga’s album on our charts, even though it was selling for only 99 cents.
I believed then – and still believe – that making a chart rule change in response to a development that would affect that week’s charts is a mistake. Billboard lays out its chart rules so labels and artists can play by them. As I noted in that essay about the Gaga album, the fact that we were accepting such a sale that week didn’t mean we wouldn’t examine the policy moving forward.
And examine the policy we did. Ultimately, what swayed us to make a rule change now – removed from any pressure connected to any particular album – was the fact that we wouldn’t want an album that sold for one penny to count on our charts. Our charts are meant to indicate consumer intent. And once you accept that you don’t want to count penny albums, the only remaining question is simply where a threshold should be.
We ultimately chose $3.49 for two reasons. One, it’s roughly half of wholesale in the digital world, where albums cost retailers about $7.50 on average. And two, this price point wouldn’t interfere with any regular or semi-regular pricing currently in effect at any of the five biggest retailers – Walmart, Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy and Target. As I noted in my earlier essay, Billboard doesn’t want to control the marketplace. We just want to count it. But free or almost-free albums don’t represent a marketplace.
We take very seriously reader feedback. It’s important for us to have a genuine exchange and dialogue with you. Whether it’s via email or the comments section below, I read all feedback, and try to respond to what I can. While further changes in our charting policy are not currently planned, we will always remain responsive to the marketplace so that we maintain our credibility and relevancy.
Bill Werde is Billboard’s editorial director.