You probably already know this, but on Friday, Thom Yorke dropped a new surprise album called Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and effectively broke the internet. As an experiment, Yorke sold the album via BitTorrent, charging buyers six bucks a pop for the digital files. A lot of people bought it, and we know this because the BitTorrent widget keeps a running tally. As I’m writing this, more than 408,000 people worldwide have downloaded the album, and that should be enough to comfortably land Yorke at #1 on the Billboard 200. But will it end up there?
Before the out-of-nowhere Yorke album, three albums were in a close race for that spot. Billboard reports that Barbra Streisand’s Partners, Kenny Chesney’s The Big Revival, and Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s duets album Cheek To Cheek were all on pace to sell somewhere between 120,000 and 125,000 albums. It seems like common sense that Yorke has absolutely housed all those albums. But Yorke’s 408,000 number covers the whole world, and Billboard only counts U.S. sales. Also, Billboard’s weekly charts only cover Monday to Sunday, which shaves off some of those 408,000 copies, though probably not many. And the 408,000 number covers all the album’s downloads, not its purchases; people who bought it can download it a certain number of times. Still, in terms of pure numbers, it seems logical that Yorke has stomped all over everyone.
But since Billboard only uses Soundscan to count album sales, someone is going to have to actually report those sales to Soundscan. Since Yorke isn’t using a proper label for the album, he’ll either have to report his numbers to Soundscan — which doesn’t seem like a particularly Thom Yorke thing to do — or BitTorrent will report them, which seems more likely. (This whole thing has to be considered a major PR coup for BitTorrent.) And we also don’t know whether Billboard will accept a sales report from a company that wasn’t previously an established music retailer. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s likely that Yorke will either comfortably top the chart or be absent from it completely.
If Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes does top the chart, it’ll be the first non-Radiohead Yorke album to do so. Yorke’s 2006 solo album The Eraser and AMOK, the 2013 album from his Atoms For Peace project, both debuted at #2.
UPDATE: NME provides some clarification, at least in terms of UK charts:
A spokesperson for BitTorrent tells NME: “Sales figures are not being disclosed, which is the artist’s discretion.” Sales of the physical, vinyl release of the album are therefore the only ones that will count towards a chart position on the Official UK Album Chart position, a spokesperson for the Chart Company confirmed in a statement given to NME. The spokesperson said: “BitTorrent are not a chart-reporting retailer so those sales won’t count toward the Official Albums Chart. However, sales of the vinyl format sold through W.A.S.T.E will be chart eligible as they are handled by Sandbag who are a long-standing chart reporting partner.”