New York City subways were plastered in Lady Gaga images, one of the many tactics Interscope used in their mammoth promotional push for her album “Born This Way,” the 17th album to sell more than a million copies in a week.
The numbers are in, and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way is the 17th album to sell more than a million copies in a week. Surprisingly, Born This Way is Gaga’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 album chart, and with the official tally at 1,110,420, it earns the distinction of shifting more copies in a week than any album since 50 Cent’s The Massacre in 2005, and more than any female artist since Britney Spears’ Oops!…I Did It Again in 2000.
As record sales tumble year after year, first week sales in the seven figures have become increasingly rare. Taylor Swift did it last year with Speak Now, but when you consider ten albums managed to sell more than a million during the first half of the ’00s (five of them in 2000 alone) while from 2005-2009, only two did, the decline of album sales is apparent.
But the fact two artists have sold more than a million in a week only six months apart proves that it’s still very possible, even in the supposed twilight of the record buying age. But while Swift was able to do it by rallying her base and building a broad coalition of consumers and radio programmers, Gaga pulled it off thanks to Amazon’s promotional 99 cent pricing.
Amazon offered Born This Way at a ridiculously discounted price of 99 cents hoping to lure consumers over from iTunes as well as to promote their cloud services. They paid the wholesale price to Universal Music Group – $8 – and ate the rest of the cost. Amazon accounted for an incredible 39 percent, or 440,000 downloads, of the album’s sales last week. Compare that to Speak Now. Amazon offered that album at a discounted price of $3.99, but only sold 40,000 copies, or just less than 4 percent of it’s first week total. Amazon’s price slash did the trick.
Below is a list of the 17 albums to sell more than a million copies in a week. Whitney Houston became the first to do so when The Bodyguard sold 1,061,000 copies in January 1993. The reason you won’t find any albums before hers on the list is because in 1991, Billboard began using SoundScan to track album sales, relying on bar codes instead of the wildly ineffective method of calling up retailers and asking them how much they sold. The advent of SoundScan marked a BC/AD sort of moment in music, allowing the industry, fans and chart geeks an accurate look at who was selling how many. If SoundScan had been available prior, it’s likely several other titles would be added to the list.
17. Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011)
1,110,420 albums sold the week of 05/30/11
16. Taylor Swift – Speak Now (2010)
1,047,000 albums sold week of 11/13/10
15. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (2008)
1,006,000 albums sold week of 6/28/08
14. 50 Cent – The Massacre (2005)
1,141,000 albums sold week of 3/19/05
13. Usher – Confessions (2004)
1,096,000 albums sold week of 4/10/04
12. Norah Jones – Feels Like Home (2004)
1,022,000 albums sold weel of 2/28/04
11. Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002)
1,322,000 albums sold week of 6/15/02
10. ‘N Sync – Celebrity (2001)
1,880,000 albums sold week of 8/11/01
9. The Beatles – 1 (2001)
1,259,000 albums sold week of 1/6/01
8. Backstreet Boys – Black & Blue (2000)
1,591,000 albums sold week of 12/9/00
7. Limp Bizkit – Chocolate Starfish & the Hot Dog Flavored Water (2000)
1,055,000 albums sold week of 11/4/00
6. Eminem – The Marshal Mathers LP (2000)
1,760,000 albums sold week of 6/10/00
5. Britney Spears – Oops!…I Did It Again (2000)
1,319,000 albums sold week of 6/3/00
4. ‘N Sync – No Strings Attached (2000)
2,416,000 albums sold week of 4/8/00
3. Backstreet Boys – Millennium (1999)
1,134,000 albums sold week of 6/5/99
2. Garth Brooks – Double Live (1998)
1,085,000 albums sold week of 12/5/98
1. Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard Soundtrack (1993)
1,061,000 albums sold week of 1/9/93
While making the list is impressive, splashy chart debuts don’t always equal the long term success of an album. While the ultimate legacy of Born This Way has yet to be told, all but five albums on the list were not an artist’s top selling album. Most were follow-ups to an artist’s big breakthrough release. The public buys the given artists album over a period of months, and by the time the next album is out, the pent-up anticipation is at a level the artist will likely experience again. Take Taylor Swift for example. Her Fearless never achieved a sales week as eye boggling as Speak Now‘s first, but its slower burning sales made it a best seller in a way Speak Now won’t likely overcome, not to mention songs like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” are more apart of the pop cultural canon than “Mine” or “Mean” will ever be.
But while Gaga might never top 1,110,420 albums in a week, she’s proven that the album is not dead. All you need is a blockbuster album at your back, a massive promotional campaign, the right pricing, and you’re game. Team Bieber, are you listening?
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