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What’s the formula for a No. 1 album sale in the digital age?




A man listens to an iPod MP3 player through earphones August 17, 2005 in Sydney, Australia.
A man listens to an iPod MP3 player through earphones August 17, 2005 in Sydney, Australia.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

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Measuring album popularity used to be as simple as tallying the amount of CDs sold, along with the number of downloads.

But fast-forward to 2016, and it’s become increasingly difficult to determine which albums belong in the top spots. Last month, Frank Ocean’s newest album, “Blonde,” was ranked No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart for selling the “equivalent” of 276,000 albums, in the form of traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA). So, how many streams and equivalent albums sold does it take to claim the top spots? Randall Roberts, pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, wanted to find out.

Roberts recently wrote about the shift in music consumption and how it’s affected the way we measure the success of an album. Roberts wrote, “It’s a complicated mash-up of streaming and sales data, where 10 digital-track downloads sold and 1,500 songs streamed are equal to one album.” YouTube and Pandora charts, however, are excluded from the metrics because of the level of difficulty involved in tallying the number of plays, and because Pandora doesn't represent an  intentional, on-demand streaming service.

Are multi-metrics a fair way to determine which album deserves to be No. 1? How has your music consumption evolved over the years?

Guest:

Randall Roberts, Pop music critic, Los Angeles Times; he tweets from @LilEdit