UK Charts: Divide & Conquer


It will come as no surprise that Ed Sheeran is now the fastest selling male artist ever, with first week sales of 671,542 for new album Divide, according to the Official Charts Company (OCC)– just imagine what the lad could have achieved with a bit of marketing and label support. Jesting aside, Sheeran now occupying 9 of the top 10 singles in the UK, with all 16 tracks on the album in the top 20 has reopened a can of worms about streaming and the charts.

Put simply, the streaming equivalent metrics don’t work, that much is clear. The Gen is old enough to remember saving up for pop albums on cd and playing them over and over. Same with singles- the crucial difference is that this consumption only accounted for one sale back then, perhaps three if you had purchased multi-format singles to get all of the B-sides. Tracks on the album were of course not counted as singles in the way that Spotify streams now contribute to an act’s chart position.

It is very easy to shoot down the charts and describe the system as broken, as it undoubtedly is- Sheeran’s phenomenal commercial success and no exclusives approach to streaming has simply illuminated this.

What were charts companies across the globe supposed to do? Ignore streaming? The only option was to acknowledge new formats and consumer behaviour but the way in which they chose to do so is unravelling.

Interestingly, Sheeran’s album achieved 68 million Spotify streams in a single day and 1bn views on YouTube through a savvy release strategy that featured videos for all of the tracks and 14 lyric videos.

In the digital era, the charts are an ever declining relevance as a true metric and the solution is difficult to see- what is clear is that a more flexible approach will be needed as streaming starts to take the lead at retail.

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