Billboard Closes Merchandise Bundle/Album Sale Loophole (Sort Of)
There has been a funny little loophole in the music industry, where merchandise bundles have given artists a way to boost their album sales and get higher on the precious charts.
It works like this: An artist offers a T-shirt at its merch store. When you buy that T-shirt, it comes with a download of the album. That counts as an album purchase. Or, maybe there’s a special promotion that if you buy tickets to an upcoming concert, you get the album. Boom. Album purchase.
It’s been controversial to Billboard Chart purists, but for merchandisers it’s been great. It directly incentivizes artists to step up their merchandise offerings beyond just T-shirts and maybe a poster. (Lady Gaga’s latest merchandise drop is a prime example.)
But those rules, which Billboard has already tweaked multiple times, are changing again. Billboard announced that it would not count albums bundled with merchandise and concert tickets toward its album and song charts. Artists can still offer those items, but only if they're treated as separate add-ons. It's ... kind of confusing.
Here's Billboard's explanation:
Under the new rules, which will be implemented at a start date to be announced, all albums bundled with either merchandise or concert tickets must be promoted as an à la carte add-on to those purchases in order to be counted on the charts (i.e. a separate item added to a shopping cart on its own). Those included as part of a baked-in, single-price option (along with the merchandise or ticket), with the album cost undisclosed to the consumer, will no longer be counted. It is Billboard’s belief that the resulting charts will more accurately reflect consumer choice.
There are a few ways that promotional products and packaging still fit into the new way of doing things under these rules. And it’s important to note that regardless of this new regulation from Billboard, music and artist merchandise is still going to very much be a thing.
But, for artists who might downsize their bundle game if it’s not going to get them to the top of the charts, the next gimmick might be variations of the same album.
Vinyl collectors probably know what we’re getting at. Most albums nowadays are pressed on multiple different colors of vinyl. Some folks make a point to buy albums in all variations. Guess what? Those are all individual album sales. Maybe an artist wants different packaging for different versions? That’s where packaging comes into play. Maybe there are different little add-ons inside the album, like a sticker pack attached to the gatefold or insert. That way, it’s not a merchandise add-on, but a variation of an album and its packaging that gives fans a reason to buy multiple copies they might not have even bought one of originally.
Korean pop giants BTS have been using this method lately. Forbes noted that the band's album “Map of the Soul: 7” had multiple packaging variants, and fans ate it up.
The game may have changed, but it appears artists and music labels will keep finding ways to circumvent the Billboard system.