At last count, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was tied for the record of best-selling album of all time. With sales of 29 million in the US alone, Thriller shared the top-ranking with the Eagles, whose Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 shared the similar sales mark.
Now, Thriller has pulled ahead by becoming the first album in history to sell 30 million copies in the United States. This is a first, and very likely, one of the last times this ever happens. “This is the first time an artist has crossed the 30-times multi-platinum plateau,” Recording Industry Association of America chairman and CEO Cary Sherman stated. “We are honored to celebrate the unique status of Thriller in gold and platinum history.”
Thriller was released in 1982, right as CDs were being introduced to the world. That happy accident poured lighter fluid on an already-searing album, with sales continuing to blaze worldwide for decades. As part of the lucrative CD-replacement sales cycle, Thriller ended up getting purchased multiple times across different formats, including vinyl, cassette, and CD.
That replacement cycle also produced a monster recording industry boom in the 90s, one that rudely crashed with the arrival of Napster and a digital-friendly internet.
Indeed, digitized CD song files planted the seeds for the future implosion, though few could have predicted the trap. Fast-forward to the 2000s, and the CD sales cow started to crash as Napster, broader P2P, and the iPod conspired to crush content scarcity. These days, the album itself is a fast-fading concept, with very few modern-day releases surpassing even one million in sales.
Indeed, Adele’s 25 was one of the few to cross into the millions this year.