How Rihanna Got a Platinum Album by Selling Just 460 [sic] Copies

When you get a platinum album sales award–sales of one million copies–by selling just 460 albums? When your name is Rihanna.

Wait: How is it possible that Rhianna’s Anti got a mulligan worth 999,540 copies? Nielsen SoundScan–supposedly THE counting mechanism for the music industry since 1991–registered a point-of-sale number of 460 copies. Where did the rest come from? It’s…complicated, but let’s try.

SoundScan covers sales of CDs–discs and full digital music files that are counted at checkout. The Recording Industry Association of America, the organization declares which albums have gone gold and platinum by using an entirely new set of rules. In their award awarding rules (sorry for the awkward construction of that phrase), the RIAA counted

  • 484,833 album downloads on Jay Z’s TIDAL, which offered the album as an exclusive.
  • The RIAA also included over 1 million copies that were pre-purchased by Samsung in a special exclusive deal. That represents a bulk purchase of albums from the label to someone else, so it counts as a million sales.

Add all this together and we have a chart system that’s totally broken. Billboard–which uses SoundScan data–refuses to count such bulk sales in compiling their charts. Therefore, Anti is listed way, way, way down on the charts–Rihanna’s lowest debut ever. Meanwhile, the RIAA is trumpeted first-week platinum sales.

The whole situation is screwed. Digital Music News breaks it all down here. So does The New York Times.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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