Thursday, December 3, 2009
For most of Susan Boyle’s fans, buying her new album last week meant getting a shrink-wrapped CD, not a download.
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Ms. Boyle’s album, “I Dreamed a Dream” (Syco/Columbia), sold 701,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the biggest opening-week sales for any album this year, eclipsing superstars like Eminem and U2, and the best for a debut artist since Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” in 1993.
Only 6 percent of the sales for “I Dreamed a Dream” were digital downloads, far below the industry’s overall ratio of physical to digital sales. As recently as three years ago CDs — which are more profitable for record labels than downloads are — accounted for 94 percent of the market. But by the middle of this year that share had slipped to about 77 percent. The previous week’s No. 1 release, John Mayer’s “Battle Studies” (Columbia), sold a notable 45 percent of its opening-week 286,000 copies digitally.
For many in the music industry Ms. Boyle’s sales are a reminder of a large and often forgotten audience: older listeners who, whether they are less tech-savvy than younger consumers or they simply prefer to hold purchases in their hands, favor CDs over downloads.
“The reason that this record really did what it did,” Steve Barnett, chairman of Columbia Records, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, “was that people wanted to get it and own it, to feel like they’re a part of it.”
At Hastings Entertainment, which operates 154 large music and media stores throughout the United States, “I Dreamed a Dream” was the top seller last week, and Kevin Ball, the company’s vice president for marketing, said he expected the album to remain its No. 1 through the holiday season. “The demo of the customer for this CD in Hastings stores tends to be the adult music lovers who have traditionally purchased their music on CDs,” Mr. Ball said.
“I Dreamed a Dream” is a global sensation. It has become the fastest-selling debut in British history, according to the Official UK Charts Company, and it reached No. 1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. According to Columbia it has sold three million copies around the world.
“The feeling was that it was going to do very well,” said Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s director of charts, “but when the numbers came out, they exceeded what most people in the music industry were expecting.”
Ms. Boyle, 48, was a frumpy unknown before appearing as a contestant on “Britain’s Got Talent” in April, stunning the judges and audience with a crystal-clear rendition of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Misérables.” A YouTube clip of that performance became an instant phenomenon. According to Visible Measures, an American company that computes viewership of Internet videos, it has been watched 310 million times in all of its forms.
But as a woman of modest and unfashionable means who rose to a stardom she was not prepared for, Ms. Boyle, who still lives in her family home in tiny Blackburn, Scotland, has what most YouTube sensations lack: a compelling story. That, along with her arresting voice, has given her lasting appeal, said Melissa Lonner, senior producer at NBC’s “Today” show, on which Ms. Boyle performed on Nov. 23.
“She is the perfect Cinderella story,” Ms. Lonner said. “She connects with the public and crosses over so many socioeconomic platforms. And she made a great record with songs that everyone knows and can relate to.” In addition to “I Dreamed a Dream,” the album includes the hymns “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” and covers of songs by the Rolling Stones, Madonna and the Monkees.
To reach a primarily CD-buying audience, Columbia sold the album through many nontraditional retailers, like QVC and Walgreens. It had more prerelease orders on Amazon.com than any other album in the company’s history and eventually sold 115,000 copies last week through Amazon.com and 80,000 through QVC, Mr. Barnett said. Only about 40,000 were sold through iTunes, the country’s largest music retailer.
Many retailers said that Ms. Boyle’s primary audience was older women, but Mr. Barnett disputed the suggestion that her appeal was limited to one demographic.
“It was everybody,” he said. “It’s your mom. It’s your auntie. It’s cross-generational. When you sell that number, you’re selling to everybody.”
Also on this week’s chart, Adam Lambert’s debut, “For Your Entertainment” (19/RCA), opened at No. 3 with 198,000 sales, and Rihanna’s latest, “Rated R” (Def Jam), bowed at No. 4 with 181,000. Lady Gaga’s new eight-song EP, “The Fame Monster” (Interscope), hit No. 5 with 174,000, while her album “The Fame” (Interscope) jumped 28 spots to No. 6 with 151,000. (The newly released deluxe version of “The Fame” includes “The Fame Monster.”)
Andrea Bocelli’s “My Christmas” (Sugar/Decca) held at No. 2 this week with 218,000 sales, and last week’s No. 1, Mr. Mayer’s “Battle Studies,” fell to No. 13 with 92,000.