Let’s face it, the song popularity charts, no matter where they come from, are primarily for people in the music industry. It’s bragging rights for the record labels and the artists, and supposedly a measure of how well a song or album is resonating with the public. That said, it’s getting more and more difficult to make that measurement since the public is listening across so many different devices and mediums. Giving credit where it’s due, Billboard has tried its best to keep up with these trends, as its latest chart updates indicate.
The charts can be gamed by labels and artists, and most of that comes via physical content. Although certainly not the first to do so, Prince notoriously gamed the UK charts by including a copy of his Planet Earth CD in every copy of the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.
Other artists have been trying to do something similar since then by bundling albums with either concert tickets or merch. Another way is to bundle the physical product with a digital single to count as an album sale. Justin Bieber, Arianna Grande, and 6ix9ine bundled singles with digital downloads to enhance chart position. Still another way is to count a sale based on a pre-sale before the product is even manufactured.
Now, Billboard has decided to eliminate the practice of counting albums bundled with merchandise and concert tickets on its album and song charts altogether. Basically, if you bundle it, it’s not going to count, and a pre-sale only counts when the product is delivered.
The average fan and listener probably doesn’t care much about this, but it affects them even if they’re not aware. Chart position can promote music discovery, airplay, and curator selection in such a way that listeners aren’t given the choices that might work better for them.
Inflated chart position gives everyone a false sense of reality. It’s nice to pat yourself on the back for doing well, but let’s level the playing field here. Billboard looks to have done that.