At the start of the year, Billboard made changes to what they counted towards their album sale charts (See our Billboard Charts blog post from January 2020). As the changes didn’t have the desired effect, they have taken these changes significantly further.
First, they have changed how merch bundle sales will be counted. A merch bundle is when the artist ties together the merchandise they are selling with a copy of the album. In January, Billboard made a change so that in order for a merch/album bundle to be counted as an album sale, all the items in the bundle must also be available for purchase individually on the same website. The bundle had to be priced at least $3.49 more than the merchandise item alone.
Now – any albums bundled with merchandise must be promoted as an add-on to those purchases in order to be counted on the charts. Any album that has a single baked in price with the cost of merch, will no longer be counted towards the charts. The changes in January did not serve the purpose intended, as there were easy workarounds, such as placing the merch without the album buried on a part of the website that was hard to find, while the bundle was prominently displayed.
Billboard is making the same change to ticket bundles. Currently, you can purchase a ticket to an upcoming concert and it will come with a digital download of the album. As long as the user claims the download, those numbers will count to Billboards charts. This will no longer be the case when these changes take effect.
Finally, Billboard will no longer allow sales of physical albums or singles that are bundled with digital downloads to be reported as digital sales. To boost first week sales, artists would often at the last moment put up a pre-order for a vinyl that wasn’t manufactured yet and wouldn’t ship for many weeks or months. But, it came with a digital download which would count towards first week sales. Moving forward, in order for the purchase to count towards the charts, the album has to be shipped, instead of just ordered. This was an avenue artists could exploit to help push chart position and is no longer an option. However, similar bundles for tour tickets will still be counted in the Billboard charts.
Billboard made a small attempt to stop the charts from being influenced by forces other than purchasing the music and streaming in January, but it was clear it was doing little to impact artist behavior – as they quickly found workarounds. These new changes are much more sweeping and will be harder to find loopholes in. We’ll be interested to see what moves labels and artists take next.