Billboard Changes Rules for Merch Bundling to Make It Harder for Artists to ‘Cheat’
In the immortal words of John Lennon (one of Promo Marketing’s favorite songsmiths) it’s getting hard to be someone, but it all works out. Contemporary musicians certainly hope that second part holds true, as Billboard has revamped how artists can bundle their tunes and merch combinations so as to maintain the integrity of its Hot 200 albums chart.
Billboard is changing the rules to its album charts, affecting the way sales will be counted on those tallies in respect to merchandise bundles https://t.co/83xNMnO4AF
— billboard (@billboard) November 26, 2019
Five months ago, we looked at a controversy surrounding DJ Khaled and his chart-based punishment for not following a Billboard precept on the encouragement of “unauthorized bulk sales.” Our own Brendan Menapace, in examining the decision to keep the rapper from attaining the top spot on the aforementioned list, said, “The problem going forward is that Billboard needs to become consistent and clear about what artists can and can’t do when it comes to bundling.”
Well, as the season of giving evolves, it appears the media entertainment brand is doing just that, with the impending Jan. 3 implementation a possible way to reduce controversy in a world where digital sales dominate and artists find themselves collecting what seems like scraps through streaming services.
As Billboard itself divulged, musicians are going to have to be quite calculating to have album sales be as a big of a boost to their bank accounts as, say, concerts. Artists have long known they need to be tireless anyway, and they have come to rely on bundles to be a boost. While they can continue to do so, whatever appears in the bundle must now "also be available for purchase concurrently and individually on the same website.”
Billboard added that “the merchandise item sold on its own will have to be priced lower than the bundle which includes both the merchandise and the album” and that “merchandise bundles can only be sold in an artist’s official direct-to-consumer web store and not via third-party sites.” That final element is what proved problematic for DJ Khaled, and shows that Billboard is not looking for the whole universe to profit from an artist’s bundle components.
What does all of this mean, however, for artists who want to build their brand identity through merchandise and sell more records through merch bundling? Billboard notes that album sales continue to receive less favor as a way to consume music, a phenomenon that anyone who has ever purchased a CD because of two or three outstanding songs and a bunch of less-than-stellar remaining tracks could have guessed.
Many artists, including a few who have appeared in this newsletter, have ascended the charts through their bundles. But, as the new year dawns, they must resolve to be completely in line with the Billboard mandate that is on the horizon.
As the Billboard website explains:
Under current rules and moving forward, any approved piece of merchandise that is clearly artist- or album-branded can be bundled with a copy of the album, with those sales counting for the charts when the physical album is shipped to the customer or when the digital album is fulfilled to the customer. However, the merchandise/album bundle must be priced at least $3.49 more than the merchandise item alone, with that total being the minimum price that an album needs to sell for to qualify for the charts.
Putting all of these details together, one can conclude that the changes, while not only making artists extra attentive to the quality of their songs, will have them engaging in discussions with their marketing teams to make sure their merch is in tune with what consumers might want. Artists are always pushing the envelope to separate themselves from their peers, so we will say here that the Billboard modification will probably be good news for promo, because musicians will want even more novel ways to make their bundles stronger while simultaneously making sure their music is on point.