One of the most important charts in the music industry is getting a major update to finally account for how we listen to and buy digital music. The Billboard 200, which has long listed the top 200 albums of the week by sales, will soon begin to factor in downloads and streams of individual songs. Under the chart's new methodology, selling 10 songs or streaming 1,500 songs will both be counted as the equivalent of selling a single album. Though the figures sound arbitrary, Billboard says that they are "accepted industry benchmarks." The new methodology will go into effect next month.
Spotify, Beats, and Google Play are included — Pandora isn't
This update to the Billboard 200 is likely to have some dramatic changes for certain artists. Billboard says that artists like Ariana Grande and Maroon 5 will likely rank higher under this new methodology, as they've been more successful recently through streaming services and track sales. On the other hand, artists with fan bases that prefer album sales may find themselves dipping in the charts in the long run. This is the Billboard 200's biggest update since 1991, when Billboard began using Nielsen data to measure album sales with much more accuracy. Nielsen is also involved in this latest updated, with Billboard relying on its measurements of song streams and track sales.
Billboard's idea for the updated methodology was to begin reflecting the longevity of an album's success, factoring in how often people are actually listening to it. "Adding streaming information makes the chart a better representation of music consumption activity," Silvio Pietroluongo, a Billboard charts executive, says in a statement. "While an extremely valuable measurement, album sales would mostly capture the initial impulse only, without indicating the depth of consumption thereafter."
Billboard says that it worked with music industry executives to create this new methodology. Sony sales executive Darren Stupak calls it "a welcome and necessary evolution." Jim Urie, Universal Music Distribution CEO, calls the update the "next step" toward finding an "accurate measurement of music consumption."
The new methodology taps into what Billboard considers to be "all of the major on-demand audio subscription services." That includes at least Spotify, Beats Music, Google Play, and Xbox Music — which are not necessarily all of the biggest, but definitely includes the biggest and many other sizable options. The inclusion will likely be good news for Spotify, which has been facing backlash from Taylor Swift and others as it struggles to prove that it's a valuable solution for artists looking to profit off of their music. With this change, Spotify will now directly factor into an artist's perceived success from the chart.
Artists will have more to consider when releasing music
Notably, The Wall Street Journal reports that streams on ad-supported radio services, like Pandora, won't be included. That's largely because Billboard seems to be focusing on the "on-demand" aspect of streaming — the fact that a listener is selecting the song that they want to hear and not having one chosen for them — but it's unclear if Billboard will only count streams from paying on-demand subscribers. If that were the case, it would mean that Spotify's free users aren't counted. YouTube views also won't be counted, unlike on the Hot 100.
Billboard will continue to publish a separate chart based on album sales alone, continuing its existing methodology. Genre-specific charts will also continue to rely on album sales alone, though Billboard suggests that these are likely to be updated in the future.
The updated methodology will give artists something new to consider when releasing their albums — especially if they're considering pulling a Taylor Swift and withholding their latest from streaming services. In fact, under this new methodology, it might even be more beneficial to pull an artist's back catalog and only offer their newest album for a short while as a way to direct fans to it. That said, when you have as many sales as Swift, this methodology change isn't going to make a difference. She's remained in the chart's top spot three weeks in a row now, with sales of 1989 hitting 2 million.