Number crunching means nothing in this culture club
The results of the first ever “Culture Chart”, which brings together sales of CDs, DVDs, books and computer games and shoves them all into the same list, are now being pored over by the professionals with the sales charts and promotional budgets.
Basically, the chart, compiled by the Entertainment Retailers Association, determines which piece of popular culture was the most-bought item in the UK in the first six months of the year. The results are both surprising and highly misleading.
At No 1 is the that Bond heap of crap Casino Royale, the DVD of which sold 2.3 million copies. In fact, the first six chart positions were taken by DVDs. The only two albums in the top 10 were Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and that challenging artefact of avant-garde rock, Now That’s What I Call Music. The only book to feature creeps in at No 10: Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder.
At first glance, the results seem counter-intuitive. DVDs have a pre-eminent status; music CDs and books don’t seem to matter that much; and computer games (which we’re always being told the young people just can’t get enough of) don’t even feature.
As superficially interesting as the Culture Chart may seem, it actually means nothing at all. It’s deeply flawed and displays a remarkable lack of insight into the machinations of the culture industry.
The main problem here is that the chart merely reflects volume sales. The reason DVDs take up the first six places is because the film industry is hit-driven. Far more CDs are released each week than films. Quite obviously, CD sales are spread over more titles, which means that no one album has amassed enough sales to break into the top six.
The far fewer DVDs that are released are (generally) of the mainstream variety. In fact, if you take a calculator out and really dig into these results, you will find something strange: more books are sold than either films or CDs.
Books make up 39.3 per cent of the entertainment retail market, but because people buy a wide selection of titles and not just the obvious choices, books simply don’t have the volume of individual title sales to dent the higher reaches.
Computer games are unfairly treated by the Culture Chart because they are a much more expensive than a DVD or CD. If this chart was compiled on the basis of sales value – as in the amount of money taken in by any given product – then computer game titles such as Spider-Man 3 might have sailed into the top 10. For example, 10 sales of the Spider-Man 3
game take in more dosh than 25 sales of Casino Royale.
Our island neighbours have taken the chart to be a further example of the strength of British culture. Most of the top 10 are British-made or produced, but that means nothing: local sales for local acts always skew the figures. If this chart had taken in US or even Irish sales, a lot of that top 10 would drop down the list.
There’s also the piracy factor. We all know how easy it is to download music for free and more and more hit films are now available for free. This, then, only boosts the status of books. They simply aren’t pirated in any appreciable numbers.
So thank you, Culture Chart, but you mean nothing. It was a good try, though. firstname.lastname@example.org. See also: Microsoft gears up for Halo 3 launch, Business This Week The top 10: 1 Casino Royale (DVD), 2.3 million copies sold 2 The Queen (DVD), 940,000 3 Happy Feet (DVD), 932,000 4 Hot Fuzz (DVD), 921,000 5 Night at the Museum (DVD), 882,000 6 Borat (DVD), 867,000 7 Back to Black (CD), 764,000 8 The Devil Wears Prada (DVD), 680,000 9 Now That’s What I Call Music 66 (CD), 633,000 10 The Interpretation of Murder (book), 620,000
Chart topper: Casino Royale