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In 1998, Jay Z's Hard Knock Life sold close to 5.3 million albums. His follow up, Life and Times of S Carter sold 3 million. This was in 1999, when piracy was just hitting its stride. And while Jay Z has been a consistent platinum seller, it is interesting to note that Magna Carta Holy Grail, released in 2013, sold only just a little over one million copies. I say "interesting," because Samsung Partnered with Jay Z to make that album available to the first one million people who owned Samsung Galaxy phones. Quick math means, out of Jay Z's 1,130,000 album sales, the real umber of people who paid money for it, could be closer to 130,000. In other words, less than ten percent of the public wants to pay for music any more including music by an icon.
Now, nearly three years later Justin Bieber and Janet Jackson are taking a page from Jay Z and bundling their album with Lyft and Uber rides, respectively to give their album away. Janet Jackson actually bundled her album with T-shirt sales as well as other merchandise to help inflate the sales by 30K in its first week.
What's with all the generosity? Simple. They're pumping up their sales numbers. The same way a car company like Nissan inflates its sales numbers by dumping tons of its vehicles into fleet sales. Like car rentals. That's the cynicism rampant in both industries: Actual numbers don't matter. It's more important for an artist (and their record companies) to say they are a platinum artist even if they have to give a million copies of your album away to achieve that platinum rating. Just as it's more important for a car company to say they are the Best Selling Car in The Southwest* and add some legal at the bottom. The important thing is to make the chump in front of the TV focus the words "Best Selling," and "#1 song."
Although it's only been a month, seeing how much the album has slid in actual sales, it's probably safe to say Janet Jackson's album isn't going to go platinum, despite all the bundling. It came out in early October and debuted at #1. Her seventh album to top the charts. Which sounds amazing until you consider how quickly it dropped from the charts.. More importantly, sales aren't what they were back when people bought music. In 2001, Janet Jackson's "All for you," sold 605,128 albums in the first week. In 2004, Damita Jo sold 381,000. in its first week. Both albums were multi platinum. Now, after three weeks, Jackson's album sold 136,626 and since October 21st, there's not been much news on the sales. It's safe to assume there's not going to be a huge bump any time soon, especially considering the album isn't even getting airplay.
The question I ask is the same when I hear Nissan is the highest selling car in the first week of January or whatever: With all of the tricks to inflate sales, should the accolades still matter? If Janet Jackson and Justin Bieber have to give their album away, should those freebies really count towards sales? I don't think so. In fact, if we're not interested in buying the music, then there are no sales. So while we're at it, we should ditch the charting system all together. As an added bonus, we would be getting rid of Billboard charts, as well as the Grammys and VMA's.