This past week, people tracking the music industry sales charts had a brief “HUH?” moment when Phil Collins’ 1998 album …Hits reached Number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart. Even disregarding the fact that catalog albums have been outselling new releases this year for the first time since SoundScan began tabulating this data (see report here), this re-emergence of Collins’ “greatest hits” compilation seems a bit of an anomaly. How does a record released 14 years ago suddenly peak on the charts at a higher point than it did when it first hit the shelves?
There is a fairly simple explanation, actually—one that once again underscores the increased unreliability of the charts in general. People started snatching up …Hits because Amazon put it on sale for 99 cents—pretty much the same gimmick that caused Lady Gaga to have one of the largest releases in music history a few months ago.
That’s not to say Phil Collins doesn’t deserve to sell records. He has, in fact, surpassed the 100 million sales mark twice—as a member of a band (Genesis), and again as a solo artist. Only Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson have matched that feat. Also, sales for …Hits have been remarkably solid, both in its initial 1998 release and in its re-release in 2008. Perhaps, also, the spike happened in part because Phil Collins is on the minds of a lot of fans lately, as he recently announced his retirement. Even so, …Hits is an album that is worthy of any collection.
But…Number 6? For a 14-year-old record? Just because an outlet put it on sale?
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this sales tactic (obviously it isn’t the first time it’s happened), partially because many in the industry “old guard” believe that dropping the prices that low actually devalues the product. They feel that the public already feels entitled to get something for nothing when it comes to music these days, and a 99-cent album only reinforces that mentality. However, others in the business see it more as an adaptation to the times, that at least a low price prompts people to buy a record rather than download it illegally. With record sales the way they are, anything to cause a spike in the numbers is considered a victory.
I can see the point on both sides, but I might as well make an observation of my own: I seriously doubt that 40 thousand people a week were downloading a 14-year-old greatest hits album before Amazon put it on sale. So while some might feel the price was too low, at the very least it generated more interest and sales. That’s money that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.
What gives me mixed feelings about the whole thing is that many of us look at the charts to gauge the overall popularity of an album, as well as its continued performance over time—and gimmicks like these tend to mess with that system. In other words, …Hits didn’t reach Number 6 just because Phil Collins suddenly became popular again—it was because they put the album on bargain-basement pricing, plain and simple.
For that reason, I think in the case of Phil Collins, it would be better to look at the numbers of his sales over an extended period of time—and the fact is, …Hits remains one of the most consistent-selling greatest-hits compilations on the market. That says much more about Phil Collins as an artist than a one-week spike from a sales gimmick. Just saying.