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A sales chart change of heart

Prince's distribution of CDs at his concerts sparks new policies by Billboard, Nielsen.

June 02, 2004|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

Should Prince's new "Musicology" go down in the pop annals as "The Asterisk Album"?

It has earned one on a couple of fronts -- first for the sales boost the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician got by distributing a copy of his latest CD to everyone attending his current concert tour, and second for prompting Billboard magazine this week to change its sales chart policy because of that marketing strategy.

"Musicology" is Prince's hottest album in years, partially because Nielsen SoundScan, whose figures are used by Billboard to determine chart position, has counted as "sales" the more than 150,000 copies given to fans who have attended his concert tour since the album was released.

Prince's tour organizers have maintained that they factored the price of a CD into ticket prices, which have ranged from $49.50 to $75 in most markets, but some in the music industry argued that counting those CDs as sales did not accurately reflect consumer interest in the CD alone.

Still, Nielsen agreed to include all CDs distributed at concerts since the album's April 20 release as part of its "Musicology" sales total. Of the 633,000 copies reported sold by Nielsen, approximately 25% were distributed at the shows, Billboard has reported.

With other musicians vowing to follow Prince's lead, Billboard has revised its policies regarding concert ticket/CD packages, and Nielsen has gone along with the change.

To have CDs distributed at concerts counted as sales, musicians will now be required to offer fans different ticket prices, one including the album and one not.

"While there were some label executives who did give a green light to the original policy in regard to the Prince album, a number said they would like the policy better if it included a provision where concertgoers could opt in or opt out of buying the album," Billboard charts director Geoff Mayfield said Tuesday.

Prince's album will be exempt from the new policy, meaning all additional CDs distributed at his concerts will continue to be counted as sales.

"That arrangement was already in place, so we're not going change midstream," Mayfield said.

Will Billboard charts actually put an asterisk next to "Musicology" because its weekly sales total has benefited from the marketing strategy?

"No," Mayfield says. "We're not into making Roger Maris feel small."

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