And the debate over streaming continues.
The past few weeks have seen some record-breaking album releases, most notably Mumford & Sons selling 600,000 copies of their sophomore album Babel in the end of September, and now, Taylor Swift with her album Red, making waves with 1.2 million units sold in the very first week. The question of streaming services and their impact on sales was seemingly put to rest when Mumford & Sons also broke records on Spotify with 8 million streams in those first seven days. But subscribers to the various services are likely to have noticed that Swift has held back her album, meaning that those who desire to listen are forced to buy. Is this what has caused her to surpass Mumford & Sons’ record and double those sales numbers?
The build-up to the release of Red involved an intense and innovative marketing campaign, including a live web chat announcing the upcoming album, debuting a new song each week on Good Morning America, a plethora of branding deals and more. This, coupled with Swift’s widespread base of loyal fans, has seemingly paid off. The choice to withhold the album from streaming serves such as Spotify and Rdio (Scandinavian Wimp being the only exception) by Big Machine Records is due to issues with the underlying business model according to Billboard.
So what does all this mean? A look at Swift’s fan base in comparison to Mumford & Sons, at least in terms of Facebook page likes, shows that hers is tenfold. Swift has more than 35 million page likes versus 3.3 million for the folk band, and a similar ratio holds true on Twitter, with Swift counting about 20 million followers and Mumford & Sons only 240,000.
On the other hand, when looking at streaming services, the British quartet churn out numbers much closer to that of the young American country sensation. The release of the first single I Will Wait on YouTube, propelled them on to the Social 50 chart, and in the week leading up to the respective album releases both their YouTube video views and Rdio plays far exceeded those garnered by Swift. Overall Mumford & Sons have 40 million Youtube views, only 10 million less than Swift, and they exceed her total number of Rdio plays by one million.
Given the size of their existing fan bases at the time of album release, one might argue that Mumford & Son’s Babel outperformed Red, despite the overall lower sales numbers. While Red broke decade-old records, Babel far exceeded expectations. Taking it a step further one might ask whether this is evidence that streaming services provide opportunity for more listeners and therefore more potential customers beyond existing fans?
While exploring a larger data set than this would be necessary in order to come to any definitive conclusion on the matter, as this article is being drafted, Mumford & Sons’ Babel is currently streaming on my mobile device, while the only available song from Swift’s album is the first single. Which one do you think I would be more prone to purchase?
Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, The New York Times Local East Village, Westchester Magazine and more.