Drake’s ‘Scorpion’ Is the Lowest-Selling No. 1 Album In 27 Years

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Album sales in the United States have been tanking for more than a decade.  But streaming could be putting the final nails in this coffin.

Drake’s Scorpion set streaming records that will be hard to beat.  But this week, there’s a strange record being set in the opposite direction.

Ahead of the weekend, Nielsen Music reported that Drake’s latest album Scorpion is at the top of the charts for the second week in a row.  But only 29,000 copies were sold in the week of July 12th.  Nielsen says this is the smallest amount of sales for a top-selling album since the metrics company began tracking music sales in 1991, more than 27 years ago.

Compounding this fact is that the Billboard 200 chart ranks popular albums based on multiple different metrics.  Traditional sales, streaming, and individual track downloads are all combined to rank albums each week according to a complex formula.

That complex formula is an attempt by Nielsen (and Billboard) to prop the album format at any cost.  But despite throwing streams, downloads, and traditional album sales into one pot, it doesn’t seem to be saving this aging format.  So what’s the point, exactly?

Scorpion’s small album sales numbers appear to be the result of an over-the-top emphasis on streaming.

Most of the album sales so far have been through digital downloads on services like iTunes and Amazon Music.  And retail CD copies of the album weren’t made available until July 13th.

On top of that, Drake’s first-week mania has also died down quickly.  That’s typically been the case for rap albums and releases, though it highlights the difficulties of sustaining hype and attention in today’s super-saturated media environment.

Pound-for-pound, CDs are one of the biggest weighting factors for total album sales.  But only a handful of CD sales are accounted for in the 29K figure, based partly on the delayed release of the format.

Despite the poor performance for the album, this isn’t the first time it’s happened in Nielsen history.  According to stats rattled off by Billboard, the week of January 28th, 2017, saw top album La La Land hit the top of the charts under 30,000 sales.

The overall picture for album sales in 2018 is looking pretty bleak, too.  Sales for 2018 so far are around 72.73 million, which is down 17% when compared to the same period last year.  CD album sales are down by 19%, while digital album sales took a more significant hit at 21% below last year’s sales.

The bright point in all this dismal sales talk?  Vinyl is continuing its comeback with sales up 19% compared to the previous year.

Meanwhile, continued plunges in CD sales are tempering the music industry’s comeback.  The reason is that CDs and album downloads supply far greater revenues to rights owners, though attempts to save that moneymaker could be proving futile.  And for evidence of that, look no further than the most successful artist of 2018.



10 Responses

  1. Nicky Knight

    It’s a grim outlook for CD’s and download (album packages)
    Some singles still do well alright with consumers buying the download.

    However, today’s world is all about instant access and streaming delivers that.

    • Remi Swierczek

      Drake is just average dude making Ek’s style STREAMING GAMES credible!
      One of the slave drivers in music hunger games made for 2 million musicians.

      The reality $300B of music goodwill OBVIOUS to Borat has been converted by Apple and Spoofy to just $6B of subs out of $17.3B in 2017 revenues.

      Note: 1999 = $60B today

      The situation is beyond grotesque – I insist we are continuing UMG induced MUSIC BUSINESS streaming SUICIDE.

  2. Nicky Knight

    For songwriters & producers I think it’s necessary to forget about the days when records really sold huge amounts and you could get wealthy from one hit single.

    You now have to already have resources behind you to support you while you
    develop your abilities in writing and producing hit sounding songs/records.

    There are still rewards to be had.. but it’s a tougher business..

    It used to be that the songwriters got rich first, now it’s the artist that takes the lion share, especially if there’s touring, merchandising, sponsorships and other accilary revenue streams.

    But hey.. the record business is still the best entertainment business to be part of..

    • Matthew Strait

      I agree, i think that may be why were more and more artists who are either not signed to a label or there contracts are very minimal and mainly for the song-plugging.

  3. dr. danjel medovic

    realistically, the only album of the majors that wasn’t a turd except one song, was Dido’s No Angel and Life For Rent. People are getting sick of shitty albums, what can u do with 2 good songs and the other 8 completely awful. It’s a pattern people are getting tired of. Seems like those lazy weirdos need to realise you gotta have to work in music instead of caring for your ‘image’ …. I can’t find one artist on a major that I like. It’s a sad industry.

  4. Herry

    Loser maggot still hasn’t learned to keep its useless yap shut !

  5. Matthew Strait

    This could be the decline of the pop-star or the artists who makes millions even though they hit number 1 with millions of streaming hits. I’m part of the problem, I listen to so much different kinds of music that i rarely actually buy an album I like. Spotify should be paying these artists alot more then they do for each hit. 1 million streaming hits add up to barely any money at all.

  6. Seth Keller

    When it comes to popular genres–pop and hip-hop mostly–you’re right that an album chart makes no sense. There should only be a consumption chart. For the niches that have fans that still buy more product than they stream, album charts are still relevant. But those niches–jazz, heavy metal, blues, world, etc.–are playing a different game–almost in a different business.

    There are really two different music businesses for which the metrics for success are not aligned. The organizations like Billboard that chart those successes should start making the distinction or risk losing their relevancy.

  7. Nicky Knight

    I think streaming (and download) charts are the real indicators of what’s most popular.. it’s a good barometer of modern music culture.

    It seems only in places like Japan, Germany and South Korea is the CD a popular device.