Business Matters: Mumford and Sons’ “Babel” Smashes Spotify Streaming Record

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(from Billboard.biz, October 2, 2012) Proponents of subscription based music services, such as Spotify, were given a boost of confidence this week. Mumford & Sons’ sophomore effort, “Babel,” found major success in not only the streaming market, but in unit sales. The album was streamed approximately 8 million times during its release week. Spotify’s Chief Content Officer, Ken Parks, stated that 1 in every 10 U.S. users of his company’s service streamed a track from the new album. These streaming figures shatter all previously held records pertaining to single week listens by a factor of 3 to 1.

The album’s success wasn’t just limited to streaming, as it hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. “Babel” moved over 600,000 units through a combination of digital services, such as iTunes, and traditional physical retail. The album has the highest first week sales of the year thus far. Mumford and Sons’ closest competitor in release week sales is Justin Bieber’s “Believe,” which moved 374,000 units during its first week.  The new album from the folk rock quartet also holds the second place title in single week sales overall for 2012. Adele’s “21” claims first place in this category, as it moved 730,000 units the week after the artist won 6 Grammy awards.

Mumford & Sons’ sales success comes as no surprise. Their debut, “Sigh No More,” has sold over 2.5 million since its release in February 2010. The modern folk act has earned mainstream success at around the same pace as streaming services such as Spotify have. It is still unclear whether the growth in the service’s popularity has consequently fostered the careers of artists such as Mumford & Sons in a positive manner. With proportionately large numbers for both streaming and unit sales, it would appear that streaming did not hurt Mumford & Sons’ newest effort. Amidst this success, the industry still wants to ensure that streaming is helping artists, not hindering them. Streaming services have secured their victory in the battle of “Babel,” but the verdict is still unclear in the war that will shape the landscape of the new music industry.