Unconventional marketing plans such as Lady Gaga’s revolutionary deal to sell Born This Way for $0.99 on Amazon could be a thing of the past, thanks to a change Billboard has made in the way it determines its charts. Sales of albums priced below $3.49 in their initial four weeks of release will be ineligible for inclusion on Billboard’s album charts, the music industry publication has announced. Nor will the sales count toward Nielsen SoundScan’s album sales totals.
How chartmakers should account for heavily discounted album sales emerged as a controversial issue during the promotional blitz for Born This Way. Gaga’s 2011 LP ultimately topped the charts with first-week sales of 1,108,000 copies, according to Billboard — including an estimated 440,000 digital sales through Amazon, at the $0.99 price point. Gaga also gave away the album for free with the purchase of a cell phone and two-year contract at Best Buy. At the time, Billboard said it would include the Amazon figures but not the Best Buy data, citing customer intent.
Billboard’s announcement fails to provide a reason for its change of position, but it comes after critics pushed for its to disregard Gaga’s sales at the lower price. Billboard notes that the new rule also applies to reissued titles, while for digital tracks, the threshold for inclusion on Billboard’s digital songs charts will be a minimum price of $0.39 during the first three months of release. For holiday/seasonal albums, the price must be above the minimum until the end of the year. Other exceptions apply for EPs, multi-disc albums, and digital-only deluxe editions.
If the rule change had applied earlier this year, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV would boast the album’s best opening sales week. The rapper’s latest sold 964,000 copies in its first week, according to Billboard, and it didn’t have the benefit of $0.99 pricing. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne sold 436,000 copies in its first week, and though it was initially available as an iTunes exclusive, the pair’s “luxury rap” album was not exactly offered at a discount.