Spotify boosts Mumford & Sons past Justin Bieber

Oct 4, 2012
Linda Palermo

London folk rockers shift more than 600,000 copies of second album in a week to set 2012 US sales record

Erika Goldring

MUMFORD & SONS have outsold Justin Bieber with their second album Babel to become the fastest-selling act in the US this year - an accolade they already hold for the UK. Babel chalked up sales in excess of 600,000 last week in America, shattering teen pop sensation Bieber's record of 374,000 for his album Believe.

The four-piece, who formed in west London in 2007, have passed further milestones in America, according to Billboard magazine, including biggest sale for a rock album since 2008 and the second largest digital sale ever - with 420,000 downloads - behind the 662,000 achieved by Lady Gaga's Born This Way.

As impressive as this achievement is on its own, what really interests music industry insiders, struggling with declining sales and the challenges of the digital era, is that sales of Babel appear to have been given a very healthy push by the online music streaming service Spotify.

The album was streamed by Spotify users more than eight million times last week, "more than three times that of the previous record holder" on the service, according to Spotify's chief content officer Kenneth Parks, Metro reports. Many of those users will have subsequently bought the album.

Music Week editor Tim Ingham told The Week that there is a big debate in the industry about the benefits of Spotify, which was launched in 2008 and which currently has four million paying customers. "A lot of people see it is a good thing, as it leads to more promotion of the product. It also helps build a buzz about a band and allows people to share the music with their peers."

However, some managers feel that it cannibalises album sales, and because Spotify users can listen to the songs repeatedly it can wear down the "value" of the music. Coldplay withheld their most recent album from the service fearing that it would hurt sales.

Ingham says that Spotify's version of peer-to-peer promotion is "the strongest form of marketing, and has put them right in the game". Labels receive a payment per play from Spotify, although how much this amounts to is not known, since the structures behind it are quite murky and will evolve over time.

In a sign that the industry is really taking Spotify seriously, Ingham says that "all of the major labels have taken equity [in it], and see it as the future and as something that can direct modern-day consumers”.

Daniel Glass, the founder of Glassnote Records - the home of Mumford & Sons - agrees, telling that Spotify is "retraining people to buy music through streaming services. Could we be getting better compensation? Yes, but I'm not going to hold it back from them. That's old thinking.

"The fans can take the songs off YouTube, obviously, but they want the produced album. So there's still a record business," said Glass. "For now."

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