New Album: How To Gauge Success Or Failure?

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Aug 22, 2002
From a pure sales standpoint (this means opinion on the music and songwriting is irrelevant), what figures would be deemed a success for U2 and a failure?

My take is this:

Success>7 million worldwide<Failure
Success>2 million USA<Failure

I think we have to take into consideration U2's age and their previous album. ATYCLB sold over 3 million (or even 4) in the USA, and something like 10 million worldwide - that's not close to Joshua Tree but it was a success considering U2's age and the musical trends during the time it was released. On the other hand, POP was a failure because it came after a huge album/tour and did not live up to the expected sales --- less than 2 million USA and 6-7 million worldwide.

I think at this late in the ballgame in U2's career, 2 million USA and 7 million worldwide would be considered a successful album. Anything less would be a dud and anything much much more would be a bonus. I don't expect the new album to reach ATYCLB heights, that would surely be hard to top for a band that age.

I really hope they can also have a hit single like Beautiful Day was, in that it got the airplay and MTV rotation which Electrical Storm failed miserable in.

What do you guys think are the sales figures that are needed to declare the new album a dud or a success?


ATYCLB sold well over 4 million in US by now. It has actually surpassed Achtung Baby, believe it or not. Joshua Tree and Best of 1980-1990 are the only albums that it hasn't outsold. It was huge, but it didn't seem like it. ATYCLB's success was not instant. It didn't even reach #1 in the reached #3. But it didn't leave the charts for 1.5 years. It had staying power in the charts. It was the defining album of 2001, in my opinion. With 9/11 and everything, it certainly helped people deal with the problems we were all going through. It was released in October 2000, and in March of 2002 it was in the top 10 again. That's how it was. It was a gradual seller. But a huge gradual seller. Kinda like Sting's Brand New Day, or Coldplay ROBTTH.

U2 picked up a bunch of new fans in 2000-2002, as well as reignited interest in the old 80s fans who "tuned out" during the 90s. So when the promotion of the new album starts getting a buzz, there will be a lot of people waiting for this album. Which will lead to strong sales at first, but I don't imagine it will stay on the charts as long as ATYCLB. And yes, they are 3 years older than they were last time too.

So my prediction: expect a #1 debut in the US (obviously it'll go #1 everywhere else). The first month will be good to it, and then it'll kinda slink it's way down, without any bounce backs. It won't do as well as ATYCLB. But I'd imagine that the 2 million US is a close estimate. Hopefully higher, but maybe not. 7 million worldwide is a little bit small though. U2 has no problem selling albums anywhere else in the world other than US. It's just harder here.
I read somewhere Paul McGuiness saying that anything below 10 million sales is a failure for a band of U2's status.

I hope the next album, with the help of "momentum" from ATYCLB's/Elevation's success and new-sparked interest in U2 in the US will be around that mark too.

I know it may be hard for them to match (or even top) ATYCLB, I think that 7, 8 or 9 millions would be okay.

(on I read that Edge said Pop sold 8 millions, and IMO ATYCLB is more in the vicinity of 11,12 million sold copies)
First off, ATYCLB has not sold as much as Achtung Baby.

Achtung Baby is certified for 8 million in sales in the USA. It has sold another 8 million outside the USA for a total of 16 million worldwide.

ATYCLB has sold over 4.1 million copies in the USA and has sold another 7 million outside the USA for a total of over 11.1 million copies sold worldwide. ATYCLB is currently one of the 10 biggest selling albums worldwide since January of 2000, the start of the new decade. Adding in their even stronger concert following, U2 are, relative to current competition, at the top by nearly the same degree they were back in the days of Joshua Tree and Achtung. Once again, relative to the competition which is not much. U2 in general is still not as popular as they were in raw terms, attendence/ albums sales as they were on Joshua Tree through Achtung Baby, but their closer than one would think.

I still don't fully understand why POP is considered a failure when it did sale 5.5 million copies in its first year. The 7 and 8 million figures are off and simply the result of rounding and the attempt to put some positive spin in the Press that was drilling them at the time. 5.5 million worldwide was not small cookies. In 1997, that was enough to rank at the #20 album of the year worldwide! U2s popularity is based on a combination of its album sales and Concert sales. U2 had the #1 tour in 1997 with POPMART worldwide.

Despite being destroyed by the media and considered a failure mainly in the USA because raw numbers did not match the success of 1987-1993, the band was still the most popular in the world even at this supposed low point!

No other band in the world in 1997 could combine the same average of Concert attendence and albums sales as U2. While U2 were weaker in the album department that year in sales, there were still leaps and bounds ahead of everyone when it came to the concert biz. The Rolling Stones of course were still stronger in that area, but their tour played more of its dates in 1998. Even so, the POP album sold twice as much as the Bridges To Babylon plus U2 did about 75% of what the Rolling Stones did on the road. This kept U2 ahead of the Stones as U2 has always been since 1987.

High album sellers in 1997 came from young artist like No Doubt and the Spice Girls, who could not match their album sales with concert attendence. The Spice Girls did not even tour in 1997 and when they went on the road in 1998, were playing mainly arena sized venues for only one night, except in the UK. No Doubt could not really sellout single nights in Arena's except maybe in Los Angeles.

Ultimately, I think this next album by U2 would not be considered a failure if it sold 6 million copies, but perhaps not a blazing success either. POP was the first time U2 fell significantly in album sales, so the media were ready for feast when it happened, even though, no other band in 1997 could claim to be more successful than U2 in terms of overall popularity worldwide.

I would consider an album that only sold 3 million to be a failure, but the initial shipment is probably going to be at least 4 million, so thats not going to happen. To sell 10 million copies would be a roaring success and would add another U2 album to the the top 20 biggest selling albums this decade worldwide.

I'm guessing that U2 will sell 3 million in the USA and 5 million outside the USA for a total of 8 million worldwide. I don't think they are going to get the same number of Grammy's this time. But I do believe the band is going to work hard to promote the album.
STING2 said:
U2 in general is still not as popular as they were in raw terms, attendence/ albums sales as they were on Joshua Tree through Achtung Baby, but their closer than one would think.

Interesting thread - I would add that both Zoo TV and Popmart were longer tours than Elevation, as they visited more places - which no doubt helped the financial succes of those tours. (was JT/Lovetown tour longer too?)

One can only wonder how Elevation tour would have done if it went outside US and Europe...
Based on your replies so far, it looks like my intial estimates were quite conservative. Nevertheless, I will stick with it. I think it would be a great success if U2 could sell 2 million copies USA in its first year of release. That would be tough, really. And an additional 5 million worldwide should be icing on the cake. Anything less would be a disappointment.


I agree jick. Double platinum is a must to be considered a sales success in my opinion. This would be half of ATYCLB sold, but we have to remember that ATYCLB had a hit single, and not one but two grammy awards shows that boosted it's sales as it did very well both years. Add to that the attention it got with 9/11 and a critically acclaimed tour and a couple of televised performances and you realize how hard these guys worked for ATYCLB to be a commercial success.

I don't think they will push quite as hard this time, so I am crossing my fingers for a couple of hit singles. But we all know hits are harder to come by as a band gets older, and especially consistent heavy airplay.

I agree - at least 2 million U.S. and 7 million worldwide. Anything less will be a bit dissapointing.
I believe that U2 will do a lot of promotional work. If they have their shit together, it'll definately pay off for them. What amazed me is how on the opening night of Popmart, the new songs were so very unrehearsed. However, in October of 2000, they had live versions of 4 new songs completely worked out, and the tour wasn't until March. I imagine they'll do SNL, Leno, Letterman, Conan, MTV, MuchMusic (or some Canadian promotional forum) and some radio and online promotion as well, in the US. In Europe, they'll do Top of the Pops, BBC, and MTV performances. They should do promo work in Japan, Aussie and South America also. Maybe on the day of the album's release, they could do some kind of worldwide broadcast of them performing some of the songs live. Like setting up in Times Square outside the MTV building. It'd attract a huge audience, and people watching on TV would get a real sense of excitement and go buy the album. They'd be crazy to not do something like that.
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