How many records have ABBA sold?
BREAKING: Benny, Bjorn, Frida give interview with the UK's The Sunday Times about the Voyage Concert. Here
BREAKING: Voyage was 2nd best selling album worldwide in 2021 in pure sales - and 8th including streaming. Here
Two Million Copies sold. Here
Links for recent TV interviews and info about chart success in different countries.
Contact Me with comments.
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, Japan, Canada and Australia account for the vast majority of global sales. If we look at the detailed breakdown of Gold Greatest Hits we see this is the case. Look to at 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?
3. Vinyl Era - pre ABBA. 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! ABBA's Dancing Queen has sold over 1.15 million in pure sales in the UK - with streaming this only rises to about 1.6 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.
10. ESTIMATED SALES (Physical)
|Sub- Total||35 m||70 m|
|World estimate||55m||140 m|
* excluding downloads and streaming equivalent sales. Physical copies only. If downloads and sales equivalent streams around 212m.
A chart expert puts ABBA's sales
Studio Albums - 45,000,000
Other Albums - 91,000,000
Physical Singles - 54,000,000
Downloads - 18,000,000
Stream Equivalent - 4,000,000
ABBA are amongst the All Time Best Sellers in terms of Physical Singles and Greatest Hits albums. Where do they less well is 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 - All Formats
The Beatles 547,000,000
Michael Jackson 454,000,000
Elvis 443 000,000
Eminem 376 000,000
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.
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.