‘Thriller,’ Released In 1982, Is Now the Best-Selling Album of All Time

  • Save

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.


5 Responses

  1. pbody

    Who’s to say what the future will hold? CDs appear to be having a come back as a sort of fad. Its cool to buy a CD for kids who grew up with nothing physical to go along with a band other than a T-Shirt.

  2. Justin Tonation

    The rise of the Walkman better explains Thriller’s sales. By 1982 there were dozens of models by Sony and others, and they were much more affordable than when they were introduced. Everybody had one, even little kids. And little kids loved Michael, just like everybody else. Thriller was huge with all the demos that mattered.

    The CD wouldn’t be a real force for a couple more years. By then, Thriller had cooled off considerably. It was Prince’s world now.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Don’t underestimate the power of the CD replacement cycle. The CD really kicked in during the latter part of the 80s, and that’s when lots of albums were purchased for the second (or third) time. It created an unsustainable recording industry surge, and undoubtedly helped Thriller.

      • Justin Tonation

        According to the LA Times, the first 20M sales were in the first two years, again before CDs were a real factor. By the time CDs went mainstream, Thriller was still selling well but not any better than other catalog hits. The real “killer app” for the CD player was Brothers In Arms.

  3. Me2

    Or maybe it has something to do with the quality of the songs and the record.

    If we’re searching for external factors, MTV would be near the top of my list. They almost didn’t play the Billie Jean video. True story.