EMAILED ON June 11, 2019 BY Conor Grant

How Billboard’s skewed album rankings birthed the bizarre bundling business

To get their albums to the top of Billboard’s chart, Taylor Swift, DJ Khaled, and other popular musicians slip free downloads of their albums into “bundled” sales of everything from pizza to T-shirts to energy drinks, The New York Times reports.

Album sales may not matter, but album rankings do

Billboard’s music charts have been the definitive sign of success in the music industry since 1940. 

But, although most modern listeners stream songs instead of downloading whole albums, Billboard’s charts value album downloads 1,400x more than individual streams when ranking albums — even if those downloads were free with the sale of something else.

So, to climb to the top, artists go to great lengths to bundle their downloads with other popular products.

Billboard birthed a bizarre business  

Taylor Swift once bundled an album with a large, one-topping pie from Papa John’s (just $22!) — and other artists have done the same with hoodies, T-shirts, keychains, and other gimmicks. 

The Backstreet Boys, who hadn’t been on top of Billboard’s chart in 19 years, shot to #1 four months ago by bundling their download with concert tickets — and then quickly fell to #24 the next week.

Even more bizarre, bundling works: Last year, 18 of the 39 songs that made it to Billboard’s top spot got a little help from a bundle.

The battle over the bundle

Generally, Billboard allows bundling, but it did disqualify DJ Khaled 2 weeks ago for encouraging unauthorized bulk sales with an energy drink bundle, sparking debate.

Now, many industry insiders are calling for bundling to be banned entirely.

“We’re obviously not fans of bundling,” explained Desiree Perez, the COO of DJ Khaled’s management company, Roc Nation. “But our hands are being forced by Billboard’s desperate, last-ditch effort to keep streaming from eliminating what’s left of music downloads.”