How album + merch bundles inflate record sales and why it matters

CDs now seem like they come straight from another era. But anachronistic in the world of Spotify, CDs still represent the bulk of physical record sales.

At least, that’s what the numbers say. But the thing is, no one really understand these numbers, nor how to figure out how many albums an artist sells.

This tie-dye tee you bought is most likely part of an album bundle deal. All through 2019, artists have been using their merchandising power to inflate record sales. 

You can make statistics say anything you want. Here is an example. Every tee shirt, keychain, and hoodie that sold through Travis Scott’s website also came with a digital copy of Astroworld. He was selling VIP passes to his tour, too. Currently, the revenue from the sales of the packaging of merch with music — basically a bundle deal — count toward an album’s position on the Billboard charts.

To put it in other words, buying Travis Scott’s tie-dye tee directly inflates album sales and helps him dominate the charts.

Artists like Celine Dion, Luke Combs, Kanye West, SuperM, Post Malone, Taylor Swift, Madonna, NF, Tyler, the Creator, Billie Eilish, Khalid, Jonas Brothers, Vampire Weekend, Ariana Grande, Thomas Rhett and Backstreet Boys (and probably more) also put out merch along with a new album this year.

Hilariously, this even led to Vampire Weekend’s 2019 record Father of the Bride scoring a Billboard #1 over DJ Khaled’s Father of Ashad. Khaled even tried to sue Billboard about it.

“Customers usually never had the option to get an attractive piece of merch without the album, so the purity of an album sale became distorted,” said Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s head of charts, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal

In order to finally get things straight, Billboard announced a new book of rules last Tuesday. Starting on the 3rd of January 2020, any merch included in a bundle deal must also be available to be purchased separately. Bundles must also be priced $3.49 higher than the individual product, as $3.49 is the minimum an album must be priced to count on the charts. 

“The changes come as bundles have been at the center of a public debate around the Billboard albums charts, with many arguing these bundled album sales do not reflect customers’ true interest in purchasing the album, but, rather, the merchandise it’s packaged with. The new rules look to address that concern, by offering customers the option to purchase the merchandise with or without the album”, said Billboard.