The big controversy came when Amazon decided to use the album as a launching pad for its Cloud service and made the entirety of the record available for the low low price of 99 measly cents. Gaga ended up moving over one million units of Born This Way in its first week of release, though nearly half of those (around 440,000) came via the Amazon fire sale.
The e-tailer defended its choice by noting that it was a loss leader for their Cloud service, and that they actually paid full price to Gaga’s label for the album, but a lot of people viewed it as cheating.
Apparently, the folks at Billboard agree. Starting next week, the publication (which tracks album sales via Nielsen SoundScan) will overhaul their sales rules. There are a handful of new rules, but the juiciest one is the fact that albums priced below $3.49 will not be included in sales tallies.
Were those standards in place back when Born This Way hit the streets, Gaga’s total likely would not have broken that seven-figure threshold.
Let’s assume, conservatively, that half of the people who bought the album on Amazon only picked it up because of the rock-bottom price. That would knock 220,000 copies off of her first week total, putting her opening number at 888,000 albums sold. That’s still a singularly impressive number, though it would move Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV into the pole position as the year’s biggest debut week.
It also still keeps it well ahead of other big debuts like Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and Jay-Z & Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. It would even keep her ahead of Drake, who is expected to move around 700,000 copies of Take Care this week.
Honestly, this move comes across as a little odd, since it’s unlikely that any artist will be in the position to replicate Gaga’s sales trick ever again. Amazon can only launch its Cloud service once, and it seems like a long shot that any other major retailer would be willing to take the bath that Amazon took for the sake of record numbers or sheer volume.
And even if a bunch of artists were to suddenly agree with Gaga and decide their albums were only really worth 99 cents, how do those sales not count as actual sales? In an era where people steal music hand over fist, wouldn’t the idea of people paying any money at all–especially in the digital realm–be better than outright theft? Perhaps the music world should switch over to the way theatrical movie receipts are tracked, with the total amount of money made is the figure used to judge something’s success or failure.
Volume obviously doesn’t mean as much as it used to if Gaga can move a million albums dirt cheap, while indie-minded artists like Prince are selling smaller numbers but making more money because they keep a greater percentage of every album sold. Of course, if that were the case, the top album in the country every week would be something like AC/DC’s Back in Black, which steadily moves units at a rarely-fluctuating cost (and also isn’t available on iTunes, which keeps the price point up).
Wouldn’t you rather know exactly how much money an album brought in, considering the number of different price points new music hits? And what do you think of Billboard’s new sales rules?