The Numbers Don’t Lie – The R&B Album Is Dead (Commercially) 

Keyshia Cole, Point of No Return © Interscope

As they say, “the proof is in the pudding.” What pudding you ask – R&B album sales ladies and gentlemen. It’s one thing that album sales are down across all genres, but if you examine R&B albums themselves, you’ll see that R&B sales are nothing short of abysmal. Basically, the commercially successful R&B album seems to be dead as it is.

Below are a list of the majority of R&B albums released in 2014, their peak position on the Billboard 200, and their first week sales. Also for a number of the albums, there is a link to articles discussing the album sales.

1) Ariana Grande, My Everything, #1, 169,000 copies

2) Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour #2, 166,000 copies

3) Chris Brown, X, #2, 146,000 copies

4) Pharrell Williams, GIRL #2, 112,000 copies

5) Trey Songz, Trigga – #1, 105,000 copies

6) Jhené Aiko, Souled Out – #3, 70,000 copies

7) Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce – #4, 67,000 copies

8) August Alsina, Testimony – #2, 67,000 copies

9) Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse, #3, 58,000 copies

10) Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions, #9, 55,000 copies

11) Kem, Promise to Love, #3, 52,000 copies

12) Prince, Art Official Age, #5, 51,000 copies

13) Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit, #4, 45,000 copies

14) Jason Derulo, Talk Dirty, #4, 44,000 copies

15) Jennifer Lopez, A.K.A., #8, 33,000 copies

16) Ashanti, Braveheart, #10, 28,000

17) Prince & 3rdeyegirl, PLECTRUMELECTRUM, #8, 26,000 copies

18) Keyshia Cole, Point of No Return #9, 25,000

19) Robin Thicke, Paula, #9, 24,000 copies

20) Jennifer Hudson, JHUD, #10, 24,000 copies

21) SoMo, SoMo, #6, 23,000 copies

22) Ledisi, The Truth, #14, 20,000 copies

23) Candice Glover, Music Speaks, #14, 19,000 copies

24) Tinashe, Aquarius, #17, 19,000 copies

25) Marsha Ambrosius, Friends & Lovers, #12, 17,000 copies

26) Tank, Stronger, #17, 17,000 copies

27) Joe, Bridges, #17, 15,000 copies

Ariana Grande, My Everything © Republic

Here are some takeaways. First, sadly, no R&B album sold greater than 200,000 copies, with Ariana Grande’s pop/R&B effort moving the most copies its first week selling 169,000 copies. Last year in December, the music industry was blessed with Beyoncé issuing Beyoncé, which sold 617,000 copies its first week. Sure, half-million sales don’t happen everyday – or better yet every year – but not surpassing the 200,000 mark at least once is upsetting.

Of this list, only five albums sold greater than 100,000 copies. SMH! The percentage of R&B albums debuting with 100,000 copies or more is a tepid 19%. So, lets aim lower. The number of albums selling 75,000 copies or more is 6 – SMDH. Percentage wise, that gets us up to 22%. So aiming even lower, how about R&B albums debuting with 50,000 copies or more. That accounts for 12 out of 27 of the albums, but still comes below 50% of the albums on this list – 44%.

So, not even 50% of R&B albums were able to sell 50,000 copies in 2014 (accounting for major R&B releases of course). If you average the sales of the 27 R&B albums on the given list, the average number of copies sold for an R&B album in 2014 was 55,000 copies. While that 55,000 copies is a greater average than the most of the albums on this list actually sold, that number is driven up by the topmost albums on this list.

Here’s the catch. Some might argue that Ariana Grande and Sam Smith are more pop-oriented than pure R&B singers. If that’s the case, eliminating their numbers makes the news even more devastating for R&B artists. That lowers the average debut for an R&B album in 2014 to just shy of 47,000 copies. It would also mean that out of the ‘true’ 25 R&B albums on this list, only three were album to sell more than 100,000 copies (12%), only four were able to sell 75,000+ (16%), and on 10 sold more than 50,000 copies (40%).

Anyway that you crunch the numbers, the R&B album is dead according to sales and stats. Sure, some of the singles still catch on, but then again, do they? The top selling albums on this list are generally the ones with the singles that have broken through. There are exceptions, specifically Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty, but many of the bottom feeders of the list don’t have a big hit to their name.

So what is the best use of data like this? Well, it’s to figure out what’s the best way to make R&B a lucrative genre again. Does it mean ‘selling out’ and making everything more pop centric just to earn commercial success, or does it mean approaching promotional strategy differently and more aggressively. Furthermore, for the R&B singer that is still on a major label, how does he or she coax the label to put in the money and work to make the sales happen? Maybe I’m an outsider looking in, but many of the promotional rollouts for some truly worthwhile R&B albums have been pretty lackadaisical.

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