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Rolling Stones puts its charts live, reveals the math

By | Published on Wednesday 3 July 2019

Rolling Stone

After various stumbles, Rolling Stone has launched its new US charts to rival the regular countdowns of records and albums published by industry trade mag Billboard.

In the first set of charts from Rolling Stone, the top five albums and top two singles are the same as in the corresponding Billboard lists. But after that, there are differences.

Why? Well, because they are applying a different kind of math. And Rolling Stone reckons that its math is a better indication of popularity. Of course, it would be better if they both did some maths, but what are you going to do with these Americans?

The main differences between the math done by Rolling Stone and Billboard relate to how different kinds of music consumption stats – physical sales v downloads v free streams v premium streams – are weighted.

In the new Rolling Stone charts, 120 subscription streams count as one single track unit, compared to 360 ad-funded streams. As with Billboard, it assumes all albums contain ten tracks, so 1200 paid and 3600 ad-funded streams equate to one album sale. For Billboard it’s 1250 and 3750.

There are also differences with sales-based formats too. So a standard CD or download sale count as one sale, but a standard vinyl sale counts as two. A deluxe CD is 1.3, while deluxe vinyl is 2.5. A cassette is just one, however much you talk the retro format up. Poor cassettes. On top of all that, there is a cap on the number of bundled albums and tracks sold that can count towards the chart.

With all the thinking that has gone into these metrics and all the sums that will have to be done to compile each list, you’d almost think we weren’t in an age where nobody cares about the charts except for the artists and labels who appear in them.