The Album Bundle Wars

A screenshot of the Jonas Brother's Store, where you can album bundle with items such as a tote bag and mug.
A Screenshot of the Jonas Brothers Online Store

It’s been a while, but I’m back to talk about album bundles –because artists and labels are doing everything they can to seize chart positions and earn RIAA statuses.

I’m not going to get into specifics of what constitutes an album bundle because it’s been exhausted.

Instead, I want to take you back to a different time.

A time where bundling an album with a t-shirt or poster meant having a CD, including it in package, and mailing that package to the buyer.

The idea of bundling comes from a time period where creating an album had unavoidable physical cost. If I was making shirts for $7.00 a pop and creating CDs for $1.50 a piece, I needed to make sure that the t-shirt sold at a price that exceeded my expenses, and that the CD was selling for at least the Published Price to Dealer or Suggested Retail Price. The money paid out to performers and writers relied on selling the album at an agreed upon price, and undervaluing the CD affected artist and label revenue.

Now, let’s come back to the present.

The breakdown of units sold overwhelmingly skews towards stream-equivalent sales.

People just really aren’t buying albums –and for good reason.

$9.99/one album v. $9.99/every album.

It’s just not viable for the vast majority of music consumers to buy every new project they are interested in, and that’s why “pure sales” are lower than ever. Even for huge artists.

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RIAA Platinum The Life of Pablo Album Cover

What’s an Album Sale to the RIAA in the Digital Era?

The “Living, Breathing Album”

On February 1st of 2016, the RIAA announced that streaming would contribute to Gold and Platinum certifications for albums. Since 2013, on-demand streaming had already counted towards the Gold and Platinum status of tracks released as singles, but the addition of streaming to “album sales” meant a new chance for artists to achieve the most coveted RIAA awards.

13 days later after the RIAA updated their stance on stream-equivalent sales, Kanye West released The Life of Pablo as a streaming-only, Tidal-exclusive album. Aside from the fact that Kanye had never released an album without physical copies, The Life of Pablo was peculiar for another reason: it received numerous updates weeks after its initial release.

As noted by XXL, Kanye was still updating and changing aspects of The Life of Pablo as late as June 17th 2016, 4 months after the album’s original release date. Some changes were as minor as different EQing. Other changes, like including Vic Mensa and Sia on “Wolves,” were more drastic. Kanye had stated that the project would be a “a living breathing changing creative expression [of] #contemporaryart,” and The Life of Pablo certainly lived up to his claim.

A year after its release, the album would become the first streaming-only album to go platinum (if you ignore the .07% of sales that came from the brief download option offered on Kanye’s site). However, the effect of what a “living, breathing album” would have on RIAA certification going forward was perhaps an even bigger deal for the music industry.

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