Sunday, June 28, 2009

The non-Jackson charts: Amazon and iTunes

By now you’ve probably heard 300 times that ever since Michael Jackson died, he has dominated the rankings of the best-selling albums on Amazon and iTunes — which, even though they don’t accurately reflect the full marketplace, are the closest things we have to real-time sales charts.

But what else is selling? And what does this tell us about who’s doing the buying? As of Sunday evening, here are the albums in the top 25 of Amazon and iTunes that are not related to Michael Jackson:


No. 14: Wilco
PhotobucketNo. 15: Dave Matthews Band
No. 16: Regina Spektor
No. 17: George Harrison
No. 19: Green Day
No. 20: Steve Martin
No. 21: Rob Thomas
No. 22: Dream Theater
No. 25: Susan Werner


No. 7: Black Eyed Peas
PhotobucketNos. 8 and 24: Transformers soundtrack and score
No. 10: Regina Spektor
No. 11: Dave Matthews Band
No. 14: Lady Gaga
Nos. 15 and 21: Kings of Leon (regular and deluxe)
No. 16: Jonas Brothers
No. 18: Taylor Swift
No. 22: Twilight soundtrack
No. 25: Daughtry pre-order

The lessons:

  • Amazon’s customers are much older than iTunes’.

  • Amazon’s customers are mostly white. (The first nonwhite, non-Jackson artist is Black Eyed Peas, at No. 26, and after Maxwell at No. 28, you have to go to No. 58 to find the next one — Bernie Williams!)

  • Diversity is a relative term. iTunes’ top 25 has pop, R&B, country and alt-rock. Amazon’s has no R&B or country, but adds jazz, Americana and whatever Dream Theater is.

  • Amazon’s customers are out of sync with the mainstream: 16th-century vocal music (No. 43) sells better among them than Taylor Swift (No. 45) and the Jonas Brothers (No. 56).

  • Amazon’s rankings are not useful indicators of the overall charts. For example: Steve Martin’s banjo album is No. 22 on Amazon. But last week it was No. 128 on the Billboard 200, with roughly 4,000 sales. If one of Amazon’s top 25 doesn’t crack Billboard’s top 125, how much is all the other stuff selling?

  • iTunes is probably better as a chart indicator. The albums that I’ve included above under “iTunes” were ranked thus on last week’s Billboard 200: Jonas Brothers, Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift. Albums in Billboard’s top 10 absent from iTunes’ current top 25: Eminem, Incubus, Chickenfoot, Hannah Montana, Green Day. Based on this I’m going to predict that on next week’s chart, Jonas Brothers will sink, as will Eminem, Incubus and Chickenfoot, while Dave Matthews, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift will hold strong. We’ll see.

  • You could argue that iTunes is a better predictor simply because of its bigger sample size. But if iTunes has maybe 80 percent share of digital, and digital is 23 percent of the whole pie, then iTunes represents only about 18 percent of the whole pie. That’s still huge, but statistically it wouldn’t necessarily dominate the overall picture. The reason it does is that iTunes’ customers have tastes similar to those of people buying at retail; Amazon’s don’t.

  • Daughtry is going to be pretty huge.

I’m not exactly breaking any news here, but it’s instructive to see just how big a difference there is.

The big question, of course, is whether Billboard will do anything to accommodate all the Michael sales. They’re spread over dozens of titles, which means that none of them would chart terribly high, but most if not all of them are catalog, so they wouldn’t count on the Billboard 200. Will they do anything special? We’ll see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Price is a big factor at A daily special always ranks high on the album chart.

Not easy, and thus not recommended, to make sweeping assumptions about the ethnicity of iTunes shoppers based on hit titles. For example, not all Black Eyed Peas buyers are black. Any popular artist has white fans -- the numbers don't allow huge success without white appeal. It's easier to get assess ethnicity of buyers for core titles, not crossover hits.