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Billboard Music Chart Marks First Major Change In 20 Years

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

This week, someone finally toppled Taylor Swift's reign on the Billboard 200, the list of the country's 200 best-selling albums. The British boy band One Direction and their new album "Four" have taken the number one spot from pop's reigning queen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEAL MY GIRL")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) Everybody want to steal my girl. Everybody want to take her heart away.

WESTERVELT: But starting next week, a monumental shift is coming to the Billboard 200. Ever since the chart was established over 50 years ago, it only counted sales of a full album - physical copies or, more recently, the download of a whole album from a site like iTunes. That mindset has gotten too old fashioned, says Silvio Pietrolongo. He's Billboard's vice president of charts.

SILVIO PIETROLUONGO: It's no longer about ownership. It's about accessibility and having music on you at all times - on a mobile device or even on computers or tablets.

WESTERVELT: Here's the change. Starting next week, the Billboard 200 will include streams and downloads of single tracks from an album. Ten downloads from a service like iTunes or 1,500 streams on a subscription service like Spotify by will equal the sale of one whole album, says Pietrolongo. Billboard didn't come up with those numbers. They were already industry-standard.

PIETROLUONGO: You know, how many streams from these different types of services would equal the revenue generated from one album sale?

WESTERVELT: The last major change to the Billboard 200 was way back in 1991 when they stopped estimating and started actually counting each album sold, thanks to a cash register scanning system. That helped open the music industry's eyes to the popularity of country and hip-hop. Billboard has been internally running the new formula in recent weeks to see who will benefit this time around. One of the biggest movers would've been the teen star Ariana Grande. Her album "My Everything" came out way back in August. But even in November, she'd have swung from the 30s into the top 10, thanks to the success of single after single, like "Best Mistake."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST MISTAKE")

ARIANA GRANDE: (Singing) Wake up, make up, total total waste of time. Can we please make up our minds and stop...

PIETROLUONGO: The chart seems to be benefiting artists that have many hits from an album. It could also benefit the new artist, where someone might not be ready to buy the album, but are buying the track and streaming that track or streaming multiple cuts from the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME TO CHURCH")

HOZIER: (Singing) My lover's got humor. She's the giggle...

WESTERVELT: Another beneficiary - a new artist like the Irish guitarist Hozier, whose single "Take Me To Church" has streamed about 73 million times on Spotify.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME TO CHURCH")

HOZIER: (Singing) Take me to church. I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies. I'll tell you my sins, and you can sharpen your knife. Offer me that...

WESTERVELT: Pietrolongo says, a few weeks ago, Hozier's self-titled album was 17 on the sales-only chart, but would have easily moved into the top 10, thanks to its streams and downloads. On the other hand, he says, artists with older fan bases might do a little worse.

PIETROLUONGO: A recent example is Bette Midler - you know, someone who doesn't generate a lot of tracks sales, doesn't generate a lot of streaming. Instead of debuting at three, she would have debuted at six.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MY BABY")

BETTE MIDLER: (Singing) The night we met, I knew I needed you so.

WESTERVELT: The new top 10 will be unveiled Wednesday on Billboard.com, counting sales from this past week. Pietrolongo says, he doesn't think it'll be too jarringly. In all likelihood, it'll be a pair of familiar names at the top - One Direction and, of course, Taylor Swift, who gave the rest of the field a leg up when she pulled her catalog from Spotify.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLANK SPACE")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) Got a long list of ex-lovers. They'll tell you I'm insane. But I've got a blank space, baby, and I'll write your name. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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