CATALOG VS. CURRENT
As a follower of the Billboard charts since the early '70s, I must say that I am totally disgusted that Billboard would allow the fourth-biggest selling album of the week to claim the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200.
I have read time and again your reasons for having a catalog chart and I have also watched time and again as Billboard has changed policies so that the charts would better reflect what records were selling and what radio was playing. If ever there was a week to change the rules, it would be this week, when three albums - Michael Jackson's "Number Ones," "The Essential Michael Jackson" and "Thriller" - outsold the title listed as No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (the Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D.)".
When we look back at chart records and chart history, we turn to the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard 200, not any of the catalog or recurrent charts. To watch "Essential" go down in history as a No. 96 album and "Number Ones" as a No. 13 album (each release's peak on the Billboard 200) when they were the two top-selling albums this week is so ridiculous.
Justify it however you may, but Billboard just lost about 50 years of credibility with its refusal to do the right thing. The best-selling album for the week should always be the No. 1 album for the week, regardless of when it was released.
I am thoroughly disgusted at how Billboard's credibility has taken such a dive after I've spent so many years looking to it as the authoritative chart source in the music industry.
Despite your disagreeing with certain Billboard possibilities, thanks for your impassioned e-mail. It represents several submitted to "Ask Billboard" this week and mirrors many comments posted by readers below some of our news stories about the charts since Jackson's passing.
While it's certainly fair to wonder why the top-selling album in the U.S. this week does not perch atop the Billboard 200, it's important to remember that the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Hot 100 are designed to be current-based charts that show readers - industry professionals and music fans alike - the top hits among current product.
The charts are, ultimately, tools for gauging how current releases are faring against one another. Sales charts that included catalog titles would dilute such a view, while airplay charts that included older titles would house certain gold titles for years, in certain cases. Case in point: Rod Stewart's 1988 hit "Forever Young" this week received more plays at adult contemporary radio than all but the top 14 songs on the current Adult Contemporary chart. Including such a title would not, for instance, be helpful to record labels comparing the performances of new titles or radio programmers deciding which new songs to add to their playlists.
As a result, Billboard creates a host of weekly catalog sales charts and recurrent airplay charts which rank sales and airplay, respectively, of older titles.
For the definitive word in Billboard's chart policies, I asked Director of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo. Here is his explanation of why Jackson's top-selling sets this week were not included on our current-based surveys:
"Current albums have been the sole focus of the Billboard 200's rankings for nearly 20 years. Michael Jackson's sales activity this past week was extraordinary and certainly news that Billboard has touted extensively in our pages, on our websites and in interviews conducted by our staff across media outlets domestically and internationally.
"Billboard is not denying the fact that Michael Jackson has the three top-selling albums in the country this week - far from it. The titles were just not eligible to chart on our current-based Billboard 200. It is for situations such as this that Billboard earlier this decade created the Top Comprehensive Albums chart, where Jackson ranks at Nos. 1 through 3 this week.
"To change our charting rules regarding catalog titles in this case would not do justice to the other catalog titles this week and in the past that have sold enough to chart on the Billboard 200."
Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at email@example.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.