Some would argue about the accuracy of these numbers, but according to Wikipedia, based on figures supplied by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), here are some interesting stats:
- The biggest selling ARTISTS of all time are as follows, based on certified sales (not record label claims and PR hype):
The Beatles – 264.5 million units
Elvis Presley – 208.2 million
Michael Jackson – 174.9 million
Madonna – 165.8 million
Elton John – 161.6 million
- The biggest selling ALBUMS of all time are as follows,based on certified sales:
Thriller (1982, Michael Jackson) – 42.4 million units
Greatest Hits, 1971-1975 (1976, The Eagles) – 32.2 million
Come on Over (1997, Shania Twain) – 29.6 million
IV (1971, Led Zeppelin) – 29 million
Rumours (1977, Fleetwood Mac) – 27.9 million
- The biggest selling PHYSICAL SINGLES of all time are as follows, based on certified sales:
White Christmas (1942, Bing Crosby) – 100 million units
Io ch non vivo (senzate) (You don’t have to say you love me, written 1965 by PinoDonaggio, performed by various artists) – 80 million
Quando, quando, quando (1962, Tony Renis) – 50 million
La bambola (1968, Patty Pravo) – 40 million
Candle in the wind 1997 (1997, Elton John) –33 million
- The biggest selling DIGITAL SINGLES of all time are as follows, based on certified sales:
Desert Island (2010, S.H.E. & Judy Chou) – 18.6 million units
Fireworks cool easily (2010, Jay Chou) – 17.7 million
I gotta feeling (2009, Black Eyed Peas) – 15.4 million
TikTok (2009, Kesha) – 15 million
Blurred lines (Robin Thicke featuring T.I. &Pharrell) – 14.8 million
- The biggest selling SOUNDTRACKS of all time are as follows, based on certified sales:
The Bodyguard (1992, Whitney Houston/various artists) – 27.4 million units
Saturday Night Fever (1977, Bee Gees/various artists) – 19 million
Titanic (1997, James Horner/including Celine Dion) – 18.1 million
Dirty Dancing (1987, various artists) – 17.9 million
Best-selling album BY YEAR, worldwide (physical copies & digital downloads, based on certified stats from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry):
2009 – I Dreamed a Dream (Susan Boyle) –8.3 million units
2010 – Recovery (Eminem) – 5.7 million
2011 – 21 (Adele) – 18.1 million
2012 – 21 (Adele) – 8.3 million
2013 – Midnight Memories (One Direction) – 4 million
2014 – 1989 (Taylor Swift) – 3.7 million
What can we learn from this list? Here are 5 interesting conclusions:
- Technology has had a significant impact on the music industry (well that’s not really news), with the biggest selling artists all having made their zillions before the rise of digital music at the turn of the millennium.
- Ditto for album sales – all the albums in the top 5 were released in the 70s, 80s and 90s, before the digital boom from 2000 onwards. The only 21st Century contender would be Adele’s album“21,” with 21.3 million sales in 2011 and 2012.
- Speaking of Adele, this album was also the biggest seller of the year for both 2011 and 2012, which shows that a breakthrough is still possible, though rare these days.
- Album sales are in decline, with the best sellers of 2013 and 2014 showing lower sales than in previous years.
- Physical singles are topped by tracks as old as 70 years, while digital singles are anyone’s guess – the top sellers are relatively unknown Taiwanese artists, showing the power of the Net in the hotwired Asian market – though in all fairness Rolling in the Deep (Adele), Poker Face (Lady Gaga), Just the way you are (Bruno Mars), and Moves like Jagger (Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera) were all just behind the leaders.
Technology is a disruptive innovation, and the music industry is proof of this, as it has always been a harbinger of change.