It is now official: Digital Sales blast the Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’ to No. 1 on the pop chart

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As first reported last night by indie rockers Spoon, the Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” has debuted at No. 1 atop Billboard’s charts. In its first week of release, the latest from the Canadian orchestral pop outfit sold 156,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, narrowly edging out Eminem’s “Recovery,” at No. 2 with 152,000 copies sold.

The achievement is the first-ever No. 1 album for a Merge Records release on the U.S. pop chart. Founded in the late ‘80s by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan of indie band Superchunk, Merge has won a reputation for releasing quality, left-of-center pop acts. In addition to the Arcade Fire, the label has had solid sales successes with minimalist art-rockers Spoon, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s vintage pop project She & Him and the more eccentric Magnetic Fields -- but never a No. 1 album.

The Arcade Fire came close to the top spot with 2007’s “Neon Bible,” an album that opened at No. 2 with 92,000 copies sold. The top-selling album that week was Notorious B.I.G.'s “Greatest Hits,” which opened with 99,000 copies sold.

Though interest in the band continues to grow, sales of “The Suburbs” were helped no doubt by discounting the album to $3.99 for its entire first week of release. Comparatively, the album was selling for the typical $9.99 on Apple’s iTunes store. Although SoundScan doesn’t break down digital sales by retailer, a whopping 97,000 digital copies of “The Suburbs” were purchased, according to Billboard.

For some perspective, only 59,000 physical copies of “The Suburbs” were sold, less than the total first week sales of the band’s “Neon Bible.” Digital sales accounted for 62% of first-week purchases of “The Suburbs.” Though digital album sales continue to grow, that’s way ahead of the industry pace. Last month, Nielsen SoundScan reported that digital sales account for 27.4% of all album purchases, with the bulk of sales still coming from the declining CD market.

Merge has had a total of four top-10 albums. Spoon’s recent “Transference” opened at No. 4 after selling 53,000 copies in its first week, and She & Him’s “Volume Two” bowed at No. 6 with 47,000 copies sold. Of Merge’s four top-10 releases, three have been issued in 2010.


In the download era, the Arcade Fire stands out for releasing thematic, heavily textured albums. The band has a rabid fan base -- the new album’s songs were being dissected and shared online back in May -- and tours relatively sparingly, making each new album and tour a major event in the independent community.

News of the Arcade Fire’s chart-topping album hit the Web last night, with Spoon reporting the sales figure on its official site and official Twitter page. Standard industry practice is to withhold SoundScan numbers until Wednesday morning, as charts are tabulated throughout the day -- and sometimes into the evening -- on Tuesday. Yet this is uncharted territory for Merge, Spoon and the Arcade Fire, and the indie rockers broke the long-standing Wednesday morning SoundScan embargo.

-- Todd Martens

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