Congrats to Arcade Fire and Merge Records

Arcade Fire - The SuburbsAnother great sales week for independent music. Merge is one of the coolest record labels out there, so it’s great to see them with the best selling album in the country. I’ve still only listened to The Suburbs one time through, and I skipped their set at Lollapalooza on Sunday, but I’m still proud of the band.

It’s no secret that Amazon was selling the MP3 album for $3.99 all week, and 62% of its sales were digital. Not sure how many of those 97,000 downloads were via Amazon vs. iTunes (who sold it for $9.99), but regardless of how that shakes out, the bottom line is that 156,000 people bought The Suburbs last week. I actually hope the $3.99 deal becomes a trend. That seems like a fair price for a lossy download. Billboard 200:

1. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” – 156,000 (debut)

2. Eminem – “Recovery” – 152,000 (down 4%)

3. Avenged Sevenfold – “Nightmare” – 45,000 (down 72%)

4. Bun B – “Trill O.G.” – 41,000 (debut)

5. Rick Ross – “Teflon Don” – 39,000 (down 37%)

6. Lady Gaga – “The Remix” – 39,000 (debut)

7. Justin Bieber – “My World 2.0” – 37,000 (down 2%)

8. Drake – “Thank Me Later” – 31,000 (down 9%)

9. Lady Antebellum – “Need You Now” – 29,000 (up 4%)

10. Buckcherry – “All Night Long” – 28,000 (debut)

Further down:

175. Arcade Fire – “Funeral” – 3,000 (re-entry)

MTV enumerates how The Suburbs’ first-week sales compares to other recent indie albums:

The Suburbs album sold more than 156,000 copies — some 30,000 more than VW managed to move in their first week — to bow at #1 on next week’s Top 200. They’re the highest opening numbers for any indie album since Pearl Jam’s Backspacer (which was released on their own Monkey Wrench label but sold exclusively through mega-retailer Target, indie stores and online) sold 189,000 copies in September 2008, and bested debuts by the likes of the Shins, whose Wincing the Night Away sold 118,000 copies to debut at #2 in January 2007, and Radiohead, who signed to indie ATO Records to release the physical edition of their In Rainbows album in 2008, and sold 122,000 copies to bow at #1.

Yahoo’s Paul Grein makes an interesting—if a little condescending—observation:

There’s a quarter-page ad for The Suburbs in the new issue of Billboard. Major labels routinely take out full-page ads on such key releases, but for tiny Merge Records, this was a big expense.)

Based on a little googling, the difference in price between a full- and quarter-page ad in Billboard seems to be around $5,000 vs. $1,500, so it’s unlikely “tiny” Merge couldn’t afford a full-page ad if they thought it might possibly give them a return on investment. And that right there is the difference between the stodgy old major labels vs. the nimble indies. Majors place full-page ads in Billboard because that’s what they’ve always done and it’s a network of old boys scratching each others’ backs. Well, even with a puny quarter-page ad, Arcade Fire still landed a Billboard cover story. It’s a different world. Will the majors ever realize that? Good for Merge for not wasting money on old-world baloney.

• Overall album sales in this past chart week (ending Aug. 8) totaled 5.26 million units

• Digital track sales this past week totaled 20.71 million downloads

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