Call it the Lady Gaga rule. Billboard has set a pricing threshold for albums and singles to come on the Billboard 200 album and the Hot 100 singles charts.
Effective with the charts dated Dec. 10 for the tracking week that starts Nov. 21), any album selling for less than $3.49 for its first four weeks will not be eligible for the chart. After that, discount away. For the singles chart, any track selling for less than .39 cents during its first three months will not be allowed on the chart.
In an open Editor’s Note posted on billboard.biz, executive editor Bill Werde noted that Lady Gaga’s discounting of “Born This Way” led to a re-examining of the policies. As you’ll recall, this May that album sold more than 1 million copies in its first week with more than 400,000 of the tally coming from Amazon selling the title for 99 cents as a loss leader.
“Ultimately, what swayed us to make a rule change now - removed from any pressure connected to any particular album - was the fact that we wouldn't want an album that sold for one penny to count on our charts,” Werde says. “Our charts are meant to indicate consumer intent. And once you accept that you don't want to count penny albums, the only remaining question is simply where a threshold should be.”
Billboard picked $3.49 for a number of reasons, but primarily because a number of retailers routinely offer CDs at that price during opening week promotions or as a way to jack up sales around holidays and award shows.
As someone who worked at Billboard for more than a dozen years, I know undertaking such a review is a relatively common occurrence, especially since as soon as Billboard sets new rules, labels start to figure out ways to work the system without violating the regulations. I’m sure their heads are spinning now. Quite frankly, we never ceased to be amazed at how labels would try to get around the rules. The rule that an album couldn’t be free and be on the chart came about after Prince released an album for free with a concert ticket. Now, if an album is bundled with another item, there must be a voucher for the album or a download code included that is redeemable by a third party.
There was a time, only a few years ago, when an album that was only available through one retailer, such as Wal Mart, was not eligible for the Billboard 200, but that rule came crumbling down with the Eagles “Long Road Out of Eden.” Other rules came about on the singles side after labels would buy airtime that would feature the bulk of the song to try to register it as a legitimate play.
In many ways, the fact that labels are so frantic to do whatever it takes to have their artist reach No. 1 is the ultimate compliment to how much it means to have a Billboard chart topper.
So what this means for the consumer is fairly obvious: no more opening-week fire sales to try to inflate numbers, but is $3.49 really too much to pay for a full album? We think not. In fact, it still seems like an amazing bargain to us for the amount of blood and sweat that goes into it. But stay tuned, we're sure just as Lady Gaga's team did, someone will figure out some other way to creatively interpret the chart when it suits their purposes to the consumers' benefit.