Taylor Swift's "1989" album racked up sales of 1.287 million copies during its first week of release, upending widespread music industry speculation that the million-plus retail sales week had become a relic of glory days long past.
"Industry experts predicted 1989 would sell 650k first week," the 24-year-old pop star tweeted Tuesday while on a promotional visit to Tokyo, referencing some of the earliest projections for her album's first week out. "You went and bought 1.287 million albums."
Just how big is that? "1989" sold more copies than last week's 70 biggest-selling albums combined.
Actually, people bought more than 1.287 million copies, but Billboard, working with figures collected by the Nielsen SoundScan sales monitoring service, does not count the copies of the album sold through a Microsoft promotional tie-in that made the album available for 99 cents to people who bought a new app. Billboard's policy is that albums must be sold for $3.99 or more to count toward their official sales total and chart position.
The question swirling around "1989" was never whether it would post the highest first-week sales of 2014. Rather, the conversation has always been how far back in time would it be necessary to look to find an album that sold faster out of the gate.
Surely it would outsell Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories,” which holds the 2014 record for the best first week with 383,000 copies back in May.
But could “1989” match or surpass the 968,000 copies Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” moved last year?
Or, what seemed to be less likely, would she top her own previous outing, “Red” in 2012, which sold 1.208 million copies, making it the hottest selling in the decade since Eminem’s “The Eminem Show” flooded 1.322 million CDs and digital downloads into fans’ hands and devices back in 2002?
As of this Tuesday, "1989" takes over that title. Swift is now the only artist with three albums that have sold more than a million copies in a single week. Before "Red" did so two years ago, her 2010 album "Speak Now" sold 1.047 million copies during its inaugural week.
Initially, prognosticators sounded almost unanimous in predicting that Swift’s fifth album would fall short of the 1-million sales mark that’s proved increasingly difficult to achieve. Indeed, no album released in 2014 has reached the platinum sales plateau at all this year, no matter how many weeks or months it’s been available.
Because of the ongoing diminution of retail sales, as more and more people either listen to music free on YouTube or Spotify, or subscribe to paid streaming services offered by Pandora, Rhapsody, Rdio, Google Play and Spotify, the million-plus first-week figure has become increasingly elusive.
But the closer the Oct. 27 worldwide release date of Swift’s bold pop venture came, the closer it appeared she was coming to scoring her third consecutive million-plus first week. Once it did arrive, estimates started creeping upward, almost on a daily basis, from 750,000 to 800,000 to 900,000, then 1 million, 1.1 million and reports of possibly 1.3 million the day before the sales reporting period ended on Sunday, Nov. 2.
Swift continues to be an anomaly in an era of diminished expectations and performance in retail music sales. Each of her albums has outsold its predecessor, despite continued shrinkage of the overall record business.
The singer, songwriter and producer expressed her own against-the-trend outlook in an op-ed piece she wrote in July for the Wall Street Journal, in which she described herself as “an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying . . . it's just coming alive.”
She proved that to be true — at least in her case — with a new album that makes her the first artist with three albums to sail past the 1-million mark in the first seven days. “Red,” which sold 1.208 million copies in 2012, outpacing the album that preceded it, “Speak Now,” which sold 1.047 million copies in the first week two years earlier.
The fact that no 2014 album before "1989" has passed the million sales mark is a sharp dropoff from just a year earlier, when five albums had topped sales of 1 million copies by October.
The year’s top-selling album is the “Frozen” soundtrack, which was released in 2013 and has sold more than 3.5 million copies since it came out late last year, and more than 3.2 million of those sales being registered this year.
All music sales continue to slide as more consumers shift to streaming over buying physical or digital versions of their favorite music. In terms of singles, 60 singles sold more than 1 million copies as of October, compared to 83 a year earlier.
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