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Rolling Stone Introduces Charts
by Alex Cosper August 6, 2019

Rolling Stone broke a tradition of reporting on music without publishing music charts until after its 50th anniversary. The music publication published its first music charts on May 13, 2019. The company has always quoted other charts such as Billboard when referring to sales performance, but now will have its own charts that may give it an edge in reader interest. For decades music charts have been criticized for having methodologies that allow for compromise and market distortion. But these new charts may provide a solution to improving how well charts reflect actual consumer tastes.

The new charts are unique because they strive to reflect real-time electronic sales and streaming data. Some of these charts include the Top 100 Songs, Top 200 Albums, Artists 500, Trending 25 and Breakthrough 25. By contrast, Billboard only publishes static weekly sales data along with its charts. People who have an interest in up-to-the-second market activity may gravitate toward Rolling Stone's new charts. Traditionally, Billboard was usually a week behind on its charts in comparison with Radio & Records, which it eventually purchased and terminated.

Unlike Billboard, Rolling Stone avoids using radio airplay information for its charts since airplay is not necessarily a reflection of popularity or consumer choice. Rolling Stone keeps its metrics focused on consumer interest rather mixing in promotional factors that can distort popularity. The problem with mixing in radio airplay is that it presumes just because people hear certain music a lot means it's the exact music they want to hear. It's clear that radio is still a choice by consumers and much of it is based on research, but that still doesn't equate airplay with popularity.

Alpha Data, owned by Penske Media Corporation, supplies the data for Rolling Stone, which is also owned by Penske. Originally named Buzz Angle Music, Alpha Data was formed in 2016 as a data analysis firm and operates separately from Rolling Stone. It collects information on musical activity from streaming services, digital music retailers, physical retailers and record labels with a heavier emphasis on sales than streams. The idea that streams should be included in charts has caused many music industry observers to question Billboard, since streams can be manipulated. Recent articles about fake streams have appeared in Rolling Stone and the New York Times.

Until the early 90s, Billboard based its charts on data phoned or faxed in by record stores and radio stations. After purchasing and introducing electronic monitoring systems for sales and airplay, the Billboard charts were considered much more accurate. But since the publication has shifted emphasis to streaming in recent years, leading to various chart anomalies, it has been widely criticized. Even so, an analysis of the first week of August 2019 showed Rolling Stone's top 3 songs identical to those of Billboard's Hot 100.

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