Low album sales gave Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” a chance to do something special. Not only did it set a one-week record for track sales, it also outsold the top album a few weeks earlier. In beating out an album, “We Are Never” highlighted the growing parity between tracks and albums. Total parity doesn’t exist yet, but as the graph here shows, parity has gone from nearly nothing to something considerable.
The best display of parity in tracks and albums can be seen in comparing the summer’s high point in track sales (“We Are Never” in the week ending August 19) and the low point in album sales (Zac Brown’s Uncaged in the week ended July 29). Uncaged sold 48,000 units and was the top album in the week ended July 29, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The top track in the week ending August 19, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” sold 623,000 units. When converted into track-equivalent albums (TEA), “We Are Never” generated more sales than a bundle of tracks worth roughly ten times its value. That’s red meat for the “the album is dead” crowd.
“We Are Never” was the only track (TEA) to outsell an album this summer. In fact, it was the only track to even come close. This is a rare feat but will happen occasionally — major labels can have only so many big first-week releases in any given week.
The gap between albums and tracks is narrowing but albums still win. The typical top 40 track sells around 40-50% of its top-40 album counterpart. In other words, the #20 track will sell about four or fives times as many units, or 40% to 50% its TEA (when multiplied by ten tracks to convert to TEA), as a #20 album.
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