Which metric more fully captures Lady Gaga's global superstardom: the 15 million albums she's sold to date, or the one billion views she reached this week on YouTube?
Though CDs are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, replaced by digital music, physical album sales still remain the gold standard for the industry. Isn't it time that metric is updated to include the wealth of ubiquitous digital platforms? "The notion of tracking sales and correlating that to success is a bit antiquated," says Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff. "There's no single indicator you can look at now—you must look at everything."
That means measuring not just physical but digital album and single sales, and pulling data from a variety of non-traditional platforms. The record industry must track downloads on iTunes and Amazon, fans on Facebook, followers and mentions on Twitter, streams on Pandora and MySpace, views on Vevo and YouTube and MTV, ticket sales on Ticketmaster—to name a few.
"When you look at Lady Gaga hitting a billion views, I think that's a very positive wake-up call for the industry—that we need to think about the metrics of success differently," says Joe Fleischer, CMO of media measurement firm Big Champagne. The Beverly Hills-based company recently developed Billboard rankings for the digital age. Called the Ultimate Chart, Big Champagne culls data from as many digital portals as possible to provide a more real-time portrait of an artist's success.
"The right way to understand success is to include all of those points of contact that are meaningful into the charting environment," explains Fleischer. "Just look at gold and platinum awards from the RIAA. When an artist like Disturbed reaches No. 1, are they now bigger than Taylor Swift? No. It means for just that one week they've sold more albums. It's one component of success, but it does not give a consistent, undistorted view of the market."
Indeed, after one week atop the Billboard charts, it's common for artist sales to plummet 60% to 80%. But that doesn't mean their success or popularity has experienced such a drop. Fans still watch videos on Vevo; they buy tickets for concerts; they follow artists on Twitter and post messages about them on Facebook. In other words, the artists are still relevant, regardless of their position in the Top 100 physical album sales.
It is those rankings which have become irrelevant.