Last 12 months, Billboard journal got here underneath intense criticism over how its charts accounted for gross sales bundles — when artists tack a replica of their new album as a bonus for getting a T-shirt or different merchandise, or a live performance ticket. Long a helpful advertising device, bundles have run rampant within the streaming age, resulting in considerations about chart manipulation.
Billboard tweaked its rules in January. But complaints have flared up again over albums that come bundled with concert tickets during the coronavirus pandemic, when touring has been halted. Is it fair to count an album tacked on to a ticket for a show that may be delayed for months — or might not happen at all?
The contest on this week’s album chart is a case in point, as the country star Kenny Chesney beat out the hip-hop giant Drake by a narrow margin that largely came down to bundles versus streams.
Chesney’s new album, “Here and Now,” had the equivalent of 233,000 sales in the United States, and was credited with moving 222,000 copies as a complete package, according to Nielsen Music. The album had just 13 million streams — the lowest for a No. 1 album since Celine Dion’s “Courage” late last year, which reached the top with 3.8 million streams (and a ticket bundle).
Chesney offered his fans copies of “Here and Now” on CD with tickets to his latest tour, which has been delayed. Billboard does not disclose how many of his album sales came through this bundle. But for Chesney’s “Live in No Shoes Nation,” in 2017, such deals accounted for the vast majority of his first-week sales.
Should album sales count if they come as part of postponed shows? And what would happen if a tour is canceled and a customer’s money is refunded — effectively making the album a giveaway?
Ben Kline, the general manager of Warner Music Nashville, Chesney’s label, noted that Chesney’s fans want the physical copy of his album and elected to get it through the ticket deal.
“Fans don’t necessarily buy a ticket to get a CD,” Kline said. “However, once they were told the cost included the price of a CD and they opted in, they were well within their rights to expect that on release day they would get what they rightfully paid for.”
In a statement, Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s senior vice president of charts and data development, said even if a show is postponed, bundles should count on the magazine’s chart.
“If the show is ultimately postponed or canceled following the album release, the consumer is still in possession of the album originally purchased,” Pietroluongo said. “Therefore, we have decided to account for those units as a historical sale and part of the respective chart week, regardless of postponements or cancellations after the fact.”
The rest of this week’s Top 5 is held by young rappers who have landed high spots on the chart in recent weeks: Lil Baby is No. 3 with “My Turn”; DaBaby’s “Blame It on Baby” is No. 4; and Lil Uzi Vert is No. 5 with “Eternal Atake.”