Accounting Change Boosted Garth Brooks' CD Sales Over Pearl Jam's

Double Live had distributor's help in setting new first-week record.

The opening-week sales record that country-pop superstar Garth Brooks made his own last week could use a footnote.

Brooks' new album, Double Live, sold a phenomenal total of 1,085,373 copies in its first week of release. But industry insiders said Tuesday (Dec. 1) that Brooks' record sales-total can be attributed in part to a change in the way one influential music distributor reports its weekly sales to SoundScan, the company that tracks national sales.

The distributor, the Handleman Company, supplies a great deal of stock to Wal-Mart, the national retail chain that heavily promoted Brooks' live album.

Because of that, Brooks' record should be considered separately from the old record, set by Pearl Jam's Vs. in 1993, said Scott Stem, vice president of publicity for Capitol Nashville, Brooks' label.

"It's almost like two entirely different things," Stem said. "Pearl Jam set a record underneath the older system. A new system has come into place, and Garth has set the record for the new system, which somebody will probably come along at some point in time and break again."

Stem contended that it's not Brooks' record, but Pearl Jam's old record of 950,378 copies that deserves an asterisk.

Handleman, based in Troy, Mich., used to report sales to SoundScan based on a Saturday-through-Friday week. Two weeks ago, the distributor changed to a Monday-through-Sunday week, thus giving new releases, which come out Tuesdays, two extra days to rack up first-week numbers, according to an industry source close to the controversy, who preferred anonymity. The change aligns Handleman with the rest of the industry.

In a Nov. 25 story on Billboard magazine's website, Billboard director of charts Geoff Mayfield said Brooks' achievement was directly attributable to a change in reporting practices by one company, although he didn't name the company.

"Overall [industry] album sales were up 27 percent over the previous sales week," Mayfield wrote. "More than one quarter of this increase resulted from a change in the way sales data is delivered by a major music seller. ... Without this shift, Brooks would not have hit the 1 million mark."

On Monday, Mayfield described the company as "someone who racks music." In industry parlance, a "rack-jobber" is a distributor who supplies records to retailers. Mayfield said a change by that one company would affect about 20 percent of Wal-Mart's sales. The industry source confirmed Tuesday the company was Handleman.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said Monday that the 2,400-outlet chain's own reporting methods had not changed in the last 12 months. Representatives from Handleman and Anderson Merchandising, another distributor with Wal-Mart accounts, did not return calls for this story.

But another distributor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday there is no question in the industry that the "music seller" to whom Mayfield referred was Wal-Mart.

"Garth and Wal-Mart are synonymous," the distributor said. "Garth's fanbase is the Wal-Mart consumer. Obviously Wal-Mart had a special interest in Garth as one of the greatest artists of our decade. I know that there were in-store promotions around the record. They wanted to sell a ton of his records."

Before the album's release, Brooks publicly expressed his hope of selling 1 million copies in a week. His massive promotional campaign for Double Live, which includes a new version of the hit "Longneck Bottle" (RealAudio excerpt), included three concerts for NBC-TV, another live performance broadcast exclusively to Wal-Mart stores, a discounted price and six different album covers.

Wal-Mart executives told Brooks they believed their chain alone could sell 1 million copies of the two-CD set in a day, according to USA Today.

In moving nearly 1.09 million copies of Double Live, Brooks not only landed at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and beat Pearl Jam's first-week record, he also trumped the single-week high of 1,061,000 copies set by The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992.

Just as new industry benchmarks were established when the detailed SoundScan system was established in 1991, Stem said future sales achievements will be noted as taking place after all retailers adopted the Monday-to-Sunday tracking period.

"It's kind of like track," he said. "We used to run the 400-yard dash, and somebody set the record for that. As we modernized track, we moved to the 400-meter dash, and whoever set the record for the 400-yard dash will always have the record for that."

Jim Donio, a spokesman for the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, said the change benefits more than Brooks.

"Having everyone ... report along the same lines, the same time frame ... is valuable for everyone who's participating and using the information," he said.

One retailer downplayed the importance of first-week sales.

"So they're higher the first week; that means they're going to be lower the second week," Stan Goman, director of retail operations for Tower Records, said Monday. "What's the point?"

(SonicNet Contributing Editor Randy Reiss contributed to this report.)