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Old 02-26-2002, 04:27 AM   #1
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RIAA Certifications ?????????

Sting and Doctor Who - your input here would be interesting. I have a week off work and too much time on my hands, but this has been bugging me for some time. Even you guys have not agreed on a previous post.

I know we have talked about over the last few months the puzzle that is RIAA certifications. The Joshua tree highlights this very issue

At the end of 87, JT was certified 4x platinum which to many does not seem unreasonable. It was then certified 5x platinum in June of 88 which makes senses with another million in sales in the first half of 88 (helped by the Grammy's etc...). The mystery are the 95 certifications where it was certified 6x platinum in 95 and then diamond only 5 months later. Obviously JT did not sell 4m in 5 months in 1995, but I think the band or the record label reacted after that 6x platinum certification. I think they said this is crap in blunt terms and that JT has sold more and had it recertified where the count come to 10x platinum or diamond. I do not think this is an unreasonable scenario.

The mystery is the spread of the 10m sales over time in the USA. If we believe that JT sold 5m copies to June, 1988, then could it have sold another 5 million copies in 7 years. Doing the math that equates to roughly 360 weeks which means the album would need to have sold 13-14,000 copies for each of these 360 weeks. This would mean that JT would have had to have been in the top 5 in the catalog charts for 7 years which I do not think is possible. Sure, it might have gone back in for a few months during the Rattle & Hum publicity and the ZOO TV tours - but not during the barren years of 89, 90 or most of 91 and 94 and 95. It might have averaged say 5000 or 6000 copies.

I think the issue is the original certification and that in 87 the certifications were not upto date. Remember, JT did in 87 performed better in the USA than in many other countries (it certainly did not spend 9 weeks at number 1 in Australia or England - though it did go platinum in 48 hours after release in the UK). With 2 number one singles, 9 weeks at number 1 and 35 odd weeks in the top 10 it is likely to have sold more than 4m in 87.

I think drawing a crude comparison to Creed's latest album (I think it had 9 weeks at number 1, but also the benefit of christmas sales which JT would not have the same level of sales), I suspect that JT sold b/w 6m-7m in the USA in 1987. Add another 1m in the first 6 months of 88 which is reasonable, and you are up to 7m-8m. I think the higher figure is more accurate - another 2 million in JT sales b/w 88 and 95 equates to roughly 5,500 per week which is getting more like it. Therefore 7m in 87 and another 1m to June 1988

What I think is also interesting as a sidelight that JT, Rattle and Hum and AB performed better in the US compared to the UK, Australia and other markets. From Boy to Unforgettable it was the other way around and since Zoorapo, U2's biggest market is Europe with the US now counting for roughly 35% of sales. Maybe with ATYCLB still being high in the US charts, U2 have rebuilt their US market with plenty of touring and TV appearances -great to see.

I have rambled alot so sorry - be interested in your thoughts.

PS Balancing up JT's greater sales in the ROW since 88 compared to the USA, I think the album has sold at least 20 million , probably 21 or 22m now


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Old 02-26-2002, 08:21 AM   #2
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Actually, I think for every U2 album released after 1987, JT popped back on the charts.

I'm not sure how long the current Pop Catalog chart rules have been in existence. The current rules state that if an album falls below position #100 and has been out for 2 years, it will enter the Catalog charts. If, by some chance, ATYCLB continues to linger in the Top 100 well past Oct. 31st of this year, it will remain on the Billboard Top 200 charts. Once it slips to #101 (after Oct. 31st), it will transition to the Catalog charts.

However, as I wrote, I'm not sure how long these rules have been in place. It may have been possible for JT to re-enter the Billboard Top 200 even, rather than the catalog charts. I do recall hearing about JT selling well during the release of R&H and AB. I believe it even recharted during "Pop." And, as we just saw, it can still receive a significant boost from U2's most recent albums or performances. After the Super Bowl, JT sold over 6500 copies! This many copies from an album that's now nearly 15 years old.

R&H was a very popular album and AB was an even stronger album that lingered on the charts for some time. Therefore, it may be very possible that the huge popularity of these two U2 albums kept JT going strong as well - to the point where it was selling around 10-15,000 copies for several years. To prove this to you, Creed's last album, "Human Clay," has been selling 20,000 copies for the last few months - mostly because of the popularity of their current album, "Weathered." If "Human Clay" continues at that pace for the rest of this year, it will sell another million copies. Multiply this by 7 years and you'll see how another 3 million copies of "Human Clay" might be sold.

Note, though, that JT hasn't been recertified since '95. It may be also possible that Island convinced stores to buy extra copies of this very popular album "for the future" (perhaps a discounted price was offered). As such, stores may have many extras of this album - but the RIAA certification only counts for albums sold to stores. Of course, I'm sure Sting2 will argue that this isn't likely, and I will agree. I think it's just the popularity of U2 in the late 80's and early 90's that kept JT going strong for a while. If "Pop" had been a huge success, maybe JT would have been recertified again!

[This message has been edited by doctorwho (edited 02-26-2002).]
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Old 02-26-2002, 05:34 PM   #3
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U2opia,
I seriously doubt U2 and Island records would have only certified the Joshua Tree for 4 million if it had sold 7 million in the USA. Only the artist and record company can ask for certification and see no evidence of any artist not certifying sales during the normal 1 to 2 year promotional period. The only exception to this would be Mowtown Records that held out for many years certifying any of its releases even for Gold. That has changed now of course and was a long time ago.
The problem comes after the promotional period and sales trail off. It can be very random when and if an old album is certified again. The Police's Synchronicity hit the 4 million sales mark in 1984, but it was not certified again until last month, and for 8 MILLION in sales.
I see nothing that would indicate that any album released in 1987 avoided having certain sales levels certified during that year. I have never heard or seen an artist or record company do this again with the exception of Motown that was not certifying any of its albums back in the 70s.
So then what is the most likely explanation for sales of 5 million of the Joshua Tree from 1988 to 1995. Like Dr. Who said, popular albums continue to sell at a slow but steady pace. Despite not being around in 1989,1990, and 1991, U2 still made the top 4 each year in Rolling Stones Year end poll of the hottest bands of the year.
The Joshua Tree left the Billboard 200 in Spring of 1989 after 103 weeks straight on chart. That does not mean it stopped selling though. The Top Pop Catalog did not come out until June 1991. Joshua Tree Boomed into that chart in December 1991. This is back when the #20 position on Pop Catalog would make it into the top 100 if it were allowed to chart on the Billboard 200. So were talking 10,000 to 15,000 in sales for all those 20 titles and the other 30 not far behind.
Why were catalog albums sales so much stronger back then, then now. The Compact Disc! It was called the CD buy back craze of the early 90s as many albums were put on CD for the first time, while record buyers rushed to replace their records with CDs. Only 20% of Joshua Tree's first year sales were on Compact Disc. Joshua Tree does have the distinction of being the first Compact Disc to sell 1 million copies in the USA.
Another huge factor is Record Clubs. In the early 90s these clubs represented nearly 25% of all music sales. Not a single one was ever tracked by soundscan either back then. By 1996 though, this trend started to fade as many clubs lost money. Once collectors had replaced most of their old albums on record catalog sales started to dry up, which is the record clubs bread and butter. Today, it represents less than 4% of sales and much of it is tracked by soundscan now. Today the Joshua Tree charges in at #14 on only 6,000 in sales on the Catalog chart. Back in 1991, 6,000 in sales might not be able to dent the top 50.
Remember that soundscan started out only tracking 40% of all sales at retail back in 1991. The above factors make it tough to see where actual sales came from.
So I think its now easy to see that Joshua Tree did continue to sell well easily from 1988 to 1995. I'd say the CD boom combined with the classic status and continued sales and popularity of the album are what got it to 10 million in 1995. Why did it hit first 6 million, then 7 million and then 10 million. This is often seen with old albums and is sometimes a reflection of the accounting process being done, or set up for special cerimonies and party's by record company and artist. Garth Brooks once got awards for two million in sales on a single day of one album. The first he knew about, the second was a surprise that made him jump like a little kid around the stage. Once past the initial promotional period, certifications become very random, often the album is left alone to sell for say 5 years, and then the record company goes back and starts to do the accounting.
To sum I'd say yes, I see the Joshua Tree selling anywhere from 500,000 copies to 1,000,000 copies every year from 1988 to 1995. This was the bands most popular period ever, even more so than today. Joshua Tree has always been U2s most popular album, and the Greatest Hits had yet to be released yet, which currently has probably cut in half what the Joshua Tree would normaly sale.
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Old 02-26-2002, 05:52 PM   #4
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U2opia,
An assumption you made about Joshua Trees sales in the USA being much stronger than other countries is wrong. Lets take Canada to start off with. While it took Joshua Tree 8 and a half years to hit diamond in the USA for 10 million sales, it only took Joshua Tree 7 months during 1987 to hit diamond in CANADA! On a per capita basis, the Joshua Tree is 3 times more popular in CANADA than the USA. Joshua Tree hit triple Platinum in the USA as it hit 10 times platinum at the same time. Last week of September 1987! Yes, platinum in Canada is only 100,000 copies, 10% of the USA platinum. Population wise it fits though, because the population of the USA is 10 times the size of Canada.
It is not known how much more the Joshua Tree sold in Canada, but it did return to the #1 spot in Canada after having gone Diamond in late September. Then Christmas Season and Album of The Year happens.
In the UK, Platinum equals 300,000 in sales but this is a bit high for the UK. The UK has the population of 20% that of the USA, so 200,000 should represent platinum. In the UK, Joshua Tree hit 1.5 million in sales in early 1988. On a per capita basis, that is almost 8 times platinum in the USA.
Those are only two examples of the stronger sales for Joshua Tree outside the USA. For the rest I can only provide Chart positions, some complete for some countries, others incomplete.
I'll put the rest of the chart positions info I have for Joshua Tree in other countries in an old thread I started on the topic. It should easily demonstrate that in 1987, just like now, U2 had to work very hard for their sales in the USA. U2 spent most of their time in the USA in 1987, not because that is where demand was strongest, but because that was where the band needed the most marketing actually. Demand to see U2 live was huge in the USA, but there were no Riots like there were in Europe when places soldout.
I believe the thread is Joshua Tree Chart positions. I'll start to gradually put what chart info I have for other countries in there.
Oh, most media at the end of 1987 reported global sales of the Joshua Tree at about 14 or 15 million. Remember only 4 million of that was in the USA.
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Old 02-26-2002, 10:06 PM   #5
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Thanks for the feedback guys - the CD sales boom, record clubs and stronger pop catalog charts would certainly have made a difference and I did not take these factors into account. This would have held strong sales from 88 - 92 at possibly 15,000-20,000 copies per week. However, I doubt that this trend would have kept at this pace from 93-95 so maybe the truth lies somewhere in middle. I still suspect that JT sold more than 4m copies in 1987 considering its chart performance in the USA - but maybe only 1m more but this is a moot point and the whole RIAA certification was pretty unscientific back then. As for JT sales in 1987 - I seem to recall a media release that it sold 12m copies in 1987 at the Rattle and Hum media launch (does not include any 88 sales)

Sting2 - Canada is one of the exceptions that is why I did not use Canada as an example in my post. I would think Ireland, Denmark and Italy would also have similar platinum status levels as the USA - but I do not have these figures. We can argue about platinum versus sales per capita ratio's but it is far simpler if we use platinum certification as a rule of thumb. The fact is JT is 6x platinum in the UK and about the same in OZ while it is 10x platinum in the USA. AB is 8x platinum in the USA and only 5X platinum in Australia and I think 5x platinum in the UK. IF JT topped the charts in 27 countries in 1987, then Canada, USA, Denmark and Italy may have been the best performers for this record in this year. It would have been rare for JT to spend 9 weeks at number 1 in many of these 27 countries - as I quoted it certainly did not have this chart run in the UK or Australia or Germany or Japan which are some of the bigger record markets in the world. AB also had a fantastic chart run in the US as shown by Dr Who's stats which was superior to the UK or Australia as examples

My point is that JT and AB performed as well in the USA as compared to most other countries in the world (with a few notable exceptions such as Canada and maybe Denmark, Italy and Ireland). However, since Zoorapa, U2's sales have cooled off in the US and became stronger in Europe and South America. I would say JT has been a bigger seller in these markets than the US in the last 5-7 years (witness it chart run on the UK last year for example). If we say JT has sold 10m in the USA and 20m in the world, then US sales account for 50%. As for AB, I have no figures worlwide, but if it has sold 8m in the USA, it probably has done 16m in the worldwide using the same ratio. However, ATYCLB shows U2's truly worldwide status - 3.5m sales in the USA versus 10.4m worldwide which is 34% of total sales (that is - U2 are not as reliant on the US to produce their benchmark of sales success of an album which is 10m copies - quoted by Adam Clayton himself)

What's interesting is that ATYCLB is hanging around on the US charts better than anywhere else in the world (with again the exception of Canada) so they have really re-built or recaptured some of the lost ground of POP in terms of record sales.

NB - JT would have to pretty close to 7x platinum in the UK and closing on 11m for JT. POP may not be far off 2m in the USA as well - any thoughts on what its numbers are now.

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Old 02-26-2002, 11:08 PM   #6
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Again I want to emphasis that the UK is 5 times smaller than the USA but yet has a platinum certification that is only 3 times smaller than the USA. The population of the USA is 283,000,000 the population of the UK is 58,000,000. 6 times platinum in the UK is 1.8 million. Realizing that in order to accurately compare sales in the UK to those in the USA you have to do a per capita ratio since the platinum level in the UK is 50% higher than it should be. Adjusting that means 9 times platinum in the UK compared to 10 times platinum in the USA. But go to the FIRST YEAR of sales. nearly 8 times platinum(adjusted) in the UK to a little over 4 times platinum in the USA. Nearly double the sales in the USA!!!
What is clear from studying the BPI is that Catalog sales represent a much smaller part of the UK market than in the USA. In the USA, Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby have been very strong sellers in the years after the FIRST YEAR which is why they come closer to 40% or 50% of total sales.
But if you look at the first year, it very much mirrors what we see with ATYCLB right now.
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Old 02-26-2002, 11:15 PM   #7
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RIAA is very accurate in fact more accurate then soundscan since it accounts and certifies how much of a product, in this case an album, has been shipped(sold) to retailers. The record company has exact records on what it has sold to retailers and giving its profits and cost, and RIAA comes in and certifies this. Unless they are hiring people of the street instead of accountants, its 100% accurate.
What soundscan does is record sales to people by retailers. Its almost 100%, but not completely, since not every album that is shipped is sold in a way or place in which soundscan would be able to detect it.
RIAA was always accurate, what was not always accurate was the charts before soundscan which were based on store reports from around the country. It was less reliable than soundscan in showing sales of retailers to consumers.
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