Nielsen SoundScan is an information system created by Nielsen Media Research that tracks sales data for singles, albums, and music video products for Billboard and other music industry companies. MTV, VH1, and many other cable music channels use Nielsen SoundScan data as well.
Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales data for Billboard on March 1, 1991. Prior to this time, the Recording Industry Association of America tracked sales by calling stores across the country and asking how much that album or single sold.
How does Nielsen SoundScan track sales?
Sales data from cash registers is collected from 14,000 retail, mass merchant, and non-retail (online stores) outlets. The advancement in technology allows Nielsen SoundScan to track album and single sales very accurately without calling anyone. Here is how Nielsen SoundScan track sales:
There is a barcode on the back of every CD or cassette. When you are about to buy an album or single, the store clerk runs the barcode across a scanner. The sale is put into the store's computer. The sale data is also sent to Nielsen Media Research offices for that region in which you live.
Nielsen SoundScan clients include:
- All major and most independent labels
- Distribution companies
- Artist managers, booking agents
- Concert promoters, Venue owners
- Online retailers and Digital Delivery companies
Nielsen SoundScan also tracks sales data for singles and albums in Canada as well.
Single Sales in Perspective
The American single sales have suffered since Billboard started allowing album cuts on their Hot 100 chart. Nowadays, a single has to sell around 140,000 copies to reach #1 on the Hot 100; however, sales amounts for singles are rarely given by Billboard. The songs that rank highest on the Hot 100 are songs that have high radio airplay impressions.
In 2005, single sales have fared better than they have in years since Billboard started tracking digital downloads from online music stores such as iTunes, Rhapsody, and Musicmatch. Sales of digital downloads have increased more than 200% from last year; however, sales of CD singles are down about 60% from last year.
2004 Album Sales in Perspective
American album sales have fared relatively well this year. Currently over 550 million albums have been sold this year, beating 2003's sales by nearly 2.8%.