Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mozart's many 'units'

Decca/Deutsche Grammophon this year has sold 6,250 copies of its “Mozart 225: The New Complete Edition,” a boxed set of 200 compact discs, leading at least one math-challenged compiler to list it as the best-selling recording of 2016, The Washington Post’s Todd C. Frankel reports:

If you multiply 6,250 by 200, you get 1.25 million discs, which exceeds the 1.2 million CDs of “25” by Adele, the British pop artist, sold during 2016. This prompted Billboard magazine to call the Mozart set the year’s best-seller, Frankel writes.

Then realization dawned that a multi-disc set is counted as one “unit,” and the magazine revised its report to rate the big-box-o’-Mozart as a “surprisingly hot seller.”

The set is priced at $350 to $500 by various online retail outlets. That works out to $2 or so per disc, which looks like a bargain until you consider that we’re talking about every piece that Mozart is known to have written, juvenilia, scatalogical canons and other marginal material included. The per-disc price rises if you only count the music you’d care to hear more than once.

(One online retailer estimates the weight of the set at 26 pounds. That’s quite a lift. Put a grip on it, and you could market it as fitness equipment – “Curling Mozart.” Sales would skyrocket.)

The “what really happened is even more surprising” element of Frankel’s report is that the actual best-selling recording of 2016 was the Canadian rap artist Drake’s album “Views,” which sold just 300,000 CDs, but also racked up 1.2 million digital album sales, 5 million digital singles sales and 2.8 billion audio streams. That, by the permutations of Nielsen – the firm tallies record sales as well as broadcast ratings – translates to sales of nearly 4 million units.

(Wait – did you just read that roughly one-quarter of the population of the planet bought this album via an audio stream? No. A tech-savvy friend explains that some more plausible number of people paid streaming services 2.8 billion times to hear the recording, many of them paying to hear it more than once. Drake has not inherited the Earth. Yet.)

In any case, sales of audio streams dwarfing sales of CDs and digital albums are a harbinger of recorded music’s future.