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Drake’s Chart Dominance, Streaming, and Why Album Sales Aren’t What They Used to Be: Guest Analysis

Sales initially got him there, but streaming has played a key role in keeping Drake's latest album atop the Billboard 200 for nine straight weeks.

Album sales aren’t what they used to be.

Sales numbers have fallen as the playlist and the stream has become a more valuable currency. Nor do album sales have the same impact on the charts. Since streams count toward Billboard‘s album chart, streaming often helps determine where an artist lands.

Drake‘s album Views and its 9-week run atop the album chart reveal music’s new paradigm: streaming doesn’t just complement purchases, it can far exceed purchases. While album and track purchases initially put Views atop the chart, streams were a major factor in giving the album the third-longest run at No. 1 for a hip-hop album, behind MC Hammer‘s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (21 weeks) and Vanilla Ice‘s To The Extreme (16 weeks).

The Torontonian’s two-month span at No. 1 got off with bang, debuting with album purchases of 852,000 units and another 188,000 equivalent album units (EAUs) for a total of 1.04 million (album equivalent) units. (Billboard uses EAUs to convert tracks and streams into albums at the rates of 10 for digital tracks and 1,500 for streams.) Album purchases fell 79.5 percent and total purchases (albums plus tracks converted into album units) fell 75 percent. Predictable but, still, ouch.


Drake's Chart Dominance, Streaming, and Why
Streaming was initially overshadowed by sales of Views — but that didn’t last long. At the services tracked by Nielsen Music? — ?Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube, among others, but not Pandora? — ?streams from Views accounted for just 15.7 percent of EAUs in week one. After purchases dropped 79.5 percent in week two, streaming represented 37.3 percent of EAUs.

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But streaming took over in week three when, for the first time, streaming equivalent units (streams/1,500) of 124,000 exceeded purchases (albums + tracks/10) of 115,000 units. Streaming went on to drive the majority of consumption for the rest of Views‘ nine-week run and outweighed purchases anywhere from 30 percent (weeks 4 and 8) to 129 percent (week 7). When Views returned to the No. 1 spot two weeks later, streaming accounted for 63 percent of the album’s 92,000 EAUs.

The chart impact is undeniable. Views probably would have dropped from No. 1 if not for its performance at streaming services. The No. 2 album twice had more album purchases than Views, in weeks five (country star Dierks Bentley‘s Black) and eight (rock legends Red Hot Chili PeppersThe Getaway), but ended up with fewer EAUs (The Getaway was just 6,000 units behind). In weeks six and seven, the runner-up albums (former No. 1 album Beyonce’s Lemonade and Nick Jonas‘s Last Year Was Complicated) nearly matched Views’ purchases but ended up with about half the EAUs (135,000 to 69,000 for Lemonade and 121,000 and 66,000 for Last Year Was Complicated).

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During its nine-week run, Views received a steady number of spins on Pandora. Views peaked at 35.5 million in week three, fell gently in week four, and settled into a consistent groove between 27 million and 29 million from weeks five to nine. Although they’re not counted for Nielsen’s chart purposes, Pandora spins would have given Views an even more comfortable seat atop the chart. In the third week, when streaming overtook purchases, Pandora spins would have amounted to 9.6 percent of EAUs (at the standard 1,500-to-1 conversion rate). By week nine, Pandora spins accounted for 16.6 percent of EAUs? — ?that’s one in six units.

In the first half of 2016, album sales fell 13.6 percent and track sales dropped 23.9 percent from 2015, according to Nielsen Music (its competitor, BuzzAngle, reported almost the same numbers). Only because of the 58.7-percent gain in streams did music consumption post a gain. Even a hit album like Views needs a shoulder to lean on.

Glenn Peoples provides music insights and analytics for Pandora Media. He was formerly a senior editorial analyst at Billboard.