How many records have ABBA sold?
Links for recent TV interviews and info about chart success in different countries.
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Global Record Claims
1. There is NO global organisation that compiles global charts*. In the case of ABBA, their record company, Universal, has been their record company since the early 1990s. Before that various companies during their career in the 1970s/early 80s.
* The IFPI has only compiled Top 10 annual albums, songs, artists since 2013. It has never compiled an All Time Chart or global charts prior too that date.
The claim by Universal of 400 million on 2nd September 2021 is just that - a claim. They have NEVER been able to break down that figure by country or record.
2. There are around 200 countries in the world but the vast majority are sold in just a few countries. The Major Markets of the US, UK, Germany, France, Canada and Australia account for the vast majority of global sales. (Japan is the 2nd biggest market but it is dominated by domestic acts). If we look at the detailed breakdown of Gold Greatest Hits we see this is the case. Look to at this graphic (from 2013) certification levels of gold and platinum records they are rather a good indicator of the size of the record industry in particular countries. Additionally, for songs in the English language, why should people in most of Asia, Africa or Latin America be even interested in them?
Platinum Award levels 2022 (albums)
Russia 10, 000*
Those countries marked with an * are for lower awards for foreign acts. Japan should have too this distinction as its market is dominated by domestic acts. ABBA's sales in India (population 1.4 billion) are comparable to its sales in Iceland (popupation 300,000).
People who argue "There are 200 countries and a global population of 7 billion" are right in that but totally wrong in understanding the music industry and global sales if that's their excuse for exaggerating sales.
By the way, lists of the biggest music markets focus on revenue not units sold. They don't distinguish between English Language/International (like ABBA) and domestic, non-English language songs/music.
3. Vinyl Era - pre ABBA (1950s/1960s). It is very hard to establish global sales in this period. There is a lot of 'guesstimates' involved. Only the USA in this time had audited sales via the RIAA for gold and platinum awards.
4. Vinyl Era - 1970 to mid/late 80s. This of course ABBA's era. The UK had set up a proper sales chart in 1969 and silver, gold and platinum awards since 1973. Other countries introduced certifications during this era - such as France (1973), Canada and Germany - both 1975, Netherlands 1978, Spain 1979 and Sweden 1987.
5. CD Era - Late 80s to 2005 for singles or up to 2015 for albums. This is the era of Gold Greatest Hits. Some countries such as the UK introduced multiple platinum awards. More countries introduced gold and platinum awards. This is the "sweet spot" for sales. Sales were for physical albums in particular and were easier to audit and verify.
6. Download Era - 2005 to 2015. Downloads were sales. But of course downloads were so much cheaper than physical sales either at the time with CDs or comparing them to the past with Vinyl. As a result there was an explosion of sales especially for singles.
Case Study: US Singles. During the heyday of the singles, roughly mid 60s to late 70s it was rare for singles to sell multi- million. The Beatles' I Want to Hold Your Hand and Hey Jude and Le Freak by Chic all on 4 million. Singles sales declined from 1980s and by mid 90s were non-existent. The Billboard Charts were Airplay dominant. When downloads came in circa 2005, multiple million sellers of 6,7,8, million became common and artists such as Adele, Bruno Mars, Rihanna and Lady GaGa all benefited from very high single sales.
7. Streaming era from 2015 onwards. Streams are not sales most countries use formulas to estimate sales based on the number of streams a song or album receives. Sales can still be important for albums, For singles though, charts are dominated by streaming. Sweden and Denmark use just streaming for singles.
Case Study: Ed Sheeran/UK sales. It is claimed he sold 80 million singles in the UK. During their career the Beatles sold 20 million. The reality is the Ed Sheeran sales are "chart sales" and take into account Streaming. Example Shape of You has "only" sold 850,000 but its 50 million streams converts this into sales of over 5.4 million!
8. ABBA Claimed Sales Timeline
(realistic claims in brackets)
1976 - 50 million
1982 - 128 million
1992 - 250 million (140 million)
1999 - 350 million (170 million)
2021 - 400 million (220 million)
You can see the problem here. No way did ABBA sell as much in 1983-92 as they did from 1974 to 1982. Sales are exaggerated by over 100 million. Nor did they sell 100 million from 1992 to 1999. At that time ABBA Gold was "only" on 15 million. Other albums really did not amount to 85 million.
9. Limiting Factor: USA sales. ABBA are not as high up on World Ranking for sales because of their relative under-performance in the USA. For sales, they are just not in the same league as The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, etc. As the USA is the world's largest market this is significant. ABBA "only" sold about 20 million albums in America. If their success was like that in the UK, this would be 100 million, given the much larger population and music market.
10 Limiting Factor: Studio albums/back catalogue sales. ABBA's studio albums just don't have the continual sales of many high selling acts. High sales while in the charts, then next to nothing. The only ABBA album to sell throughout years, indeed decades is Gold Greatest Hits. ABBA's studio albums sold about 40 million during their original career. You might have expected them to double to 80 million but they are really only on about 45 million.
Case Study: UK back catalogue sales. We have information on studio catalogue sales for a period of over 20 years (1994 to 2015). They really are quite small. Arrival, ABBA's most successful studio album sold over 100k in the UK in that period and probably about 200k since the 1970s. It sold about 1.5m during its chart span 1976-78 but only about 0.2m since leaving the charts.
10. ESTIMATED SALES (Physical)
|Sub- Total||35 m||70 m|
|World estimate||50-55 million||130-140 million|
ABBA are amongst the All Time Best Sellers in terms of Physical Singles and Greatest Hits albums. However do they less well in Downloads, Streaming and Studio Albums. The huge success of Gold - Greatest Hits - about 30 million sales meant it was more worth it to but the CD of 19 tracks than download individual songs.
11, Top 5 Artists Sales plus ABBA - All Formats
|Total Sales||Studio Album||Other Album||Physical Single||Download Track||Streaming "sales" (Studio Albums)|
|The Beatles 547m||M Jackson 182m||Elvis Presley 212m||Elvis Presley 135m||Rihanna 257m||Drake 65m|
|M Jackson 454m||Pink Floyd 169m||The Beatles 202m||The Beatles 116m||Eminen 204m||Ed Sheeran 49m|
|Elvis 443m||Beatles 160m||Queen 139m||M Jackson 79m||Drake 169m||J Bieber 48m|
|Eminem 376m||Madonna 146m||M Jackson 101m||Madonna 75m||Taylor Swift 159m||Taylor Swift 41m|
|Queen 355m||Led Zeppelin 141m||Eagles 96m||Rolling Stones 72m||Justin Bieber 113m||Eminem 38m|
|ABBA 212m||ABBA 45m||ABBA 91m||ABBA 53m||ABBA 17m||ABBA 5m|
source: Chart Masters: Best Selling Artists (view in desktop version)
Here is another link for the Top Selling Artists of All time.
1. The Beatles 600 million
2. Elvis Presley 500 million
3. Michael Jackson 400 million
4. Drake 395 million
5. Rihanna 328 million
6.Eminem 321 million
7. Elton John 300 million
8. Madonna 300 million
9. Led Zeppelin 300 million
10. Justin Bieber 261 million
11.Pink Floyd 250 million
12. Kanye West 245 million
13. Ed Sheeran 240 million
14. Taylor Swift 237 million
15. Mariah Carey 220 million
16. Queen 200 million
17. Whitney Houston 200 million
18. Eagles 200 million
Be sceptical when you read or hear about global record sales. Ask yourselves, Who compiled this? What does it include and Can it be broken down by single, album or country?
Before 1970s, global sales are very sketchy and before late 1950s very thin on the ground in the US too. Post 2015, we are dealing with Streaming (though most of ABBA's sales for Voyage - especially the early weeks will be pure sales).
During the 1970s/early980s - ABBA's era, we can only have good estimates. The accuracy is increased after this period until the age of Streaming.
It is of course very difficult to compare artists' "record sales" from different eras. Use this site to see how ABBA's singles and albums did in individual countries and the estimates globally. Any comparisons should be between counties or type of record not other artists.
In short, the 400 million record claim doesn't add up. The 30 million or so for Gold Greatest Hits is far more credible as it can be broken down realistically.