You may also notice that the albums that reach the top 20 or so stay there for a far shorter period of time. A couple weeks ago, iTunes changed the way it reflects charting for pre-orders.
In early 2011, iTunes introduced the ability for consumers to pre-order an album. This was a game changer because, historically, record labels had to create an album, promote a single to radio, market the album, get the artist on the road to tour and run advertising campaigns — all with the hope that, when the album releases, their efforts would convert into album sales.
With this introduction, record labels could essentially utilize the same tactics to sell albums but also tweak their tactics as they see them working or not working according to the pre-order sales. This ability enabled labels to do more of what worked and cut out what didn't, and, in the end, saved time and money.
The way iTunes charting reflected the pre-order sales proved to be most important reflection of success to artists and labels. When an album dropped, all of the pre-order album sales counted as if they were sales that happened on the day of the album's release.
With this knowledge, artists and labels built marketing plans to release multiple songs to drive people to iTunes and increase those album pre-orders. This was all done with the goal of getting as high as possible on the charts — and it worked.
We've seen countless Christian hip-hop albums in the top 10 on iTunes' Hip-Hop/Rap and R&B albums charts. While fans celebrated these feats, artists and labels utilized them to their benefit in hype on social networks to elevate the buzz around their releases and convince radio and media to promote their albums more.
As this happened, the Billboard charts, which were always the official go-to reporting organization to discover where albums and singles charted, took a back seat to the iTunes charts. After iTunes' pre-order change, though, all attention is back to Billboard.
A couple weeks ago, iTunes stopped counting album pre-orders as if they were sales that happened on the first day of an album's release. Now, iTunes charts are only reflective of how many songs or albums are sold hourly. While the change makes sense, this was the way things were done since 2011, and labels and artists built their strategies around this.
Some artists and labels have asked me if they should stop offering pre-orders because they won't be able to chart as frequently.
Definitely do not stop.
Billboard still reflects album sales from all retailers — not just iTunes. It also has multiple charts (although Christian hip hop won't be appearing on the "Gospel" charts there).
Pre-orders are the best friend of any business. Create a great marketing plan that spans three months or more prior to an album's release to drive those excited fans to your pre-orders, and convert your marketing efforts and financial investment into sales immediately.
Ultimately, the charts that matter in the music business are those that reflect your total sales for the first week of an album release. Reality checks hurt, but they are also healthy if you can roll with the changes.