New RIAA rule guarantees Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ to go platinum at launch


By Andrew Levy

A couple of weeks ago, Kanye West’s new album Yeezus launched as the most talked-about and best selling hip hop album of the year. Though Yeezus did not sell quite as well as West and friends initially hoped (~327,000 units sold during its first week), it still marked Kanye’s seventh consecutive number one album on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. However, Kanye will need to check his ego for a moment as Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail is set to achieve platinum status as soon as it launches July 4th.

Jay-Z newest album will be granted certified platinum status not so much thanks to eager fans/customers but rather Samsung. In a clever marketing campaign Samsung has preordered one million copies of the MCHG to be given away to customers as a promotional tool.

Historically, Platinum and Gold certifications have only been bestowed upon an artist by the RIAA after 30 days of an album being on the market. The primary reason for this was that physical CD or Vinyl copies are often returned to stores, negating sales number. The previous system did not however account for digital sales. In a statement released today, the RIAA has offically changed the rules. Thanks to Jay-Z and Samsung, the RIAA “re-examin[ed[ our historic Gold & Platinum (G&P) Program award rules” to allow artists to achieve (G&P) at launch due to digital sales.

Long story short, Hova will officially receive platinum status at the launch of Magna Carta Holy Grail. Not feeling so godly now are you Kanye?

RIAA Statement:

By now, many of us in the music business, as well as Jay-Z fans, know that Samsung has purchased one million “Magna Carta Holy Grail” digital albums to be given away to the phone maker’s customers.  It is a novel and creative marketing move and it has rightly stimulated a healthy conversation about the sale’s meaning and implications for the modern music business.   

For us, the move prompted a re-examination of our historic Gold & Platinum (G&P) Program award rules.  As we dug through the records of audits, re-reviewed rules and consulted with our auditing firm of more than thirty years, Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman, we discovered one rule disparity that no longer makes sense. 

One of our program’s requirements is that an album can become eligible for certification 30 days after release date. (There are other rules, of course – such as requiring that the price of the album meet certain requirements.)  The 30-day rule exists to take into account potential returns of physical product – CDs, cassettes, vinyl, etc. that could be shipped to brick and mortar retailers and returned, in which case our auditors do not count the sales. 

When we first created the Digital Single Award in 2004, we elected not to impose any 30-day rule because there are very few digital returns.  According to our auditing firm, digital returns on average account for less than two percent of sales included in reports provided by the labels for certification – most digital retailer Terms of Use/Service allow users to return products only under limited circumstances. 

Also at the time in 2004, sales of digital albums were virtually non-existent and accounted for a small fraction of overall digital sales.  Fast forward a decade and that’s obviously no longer the case. 

We think it’s time for the RIAA – and Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman – to align our digital song and album certification requirements.  That’s why today we are officially updating this rule in our G&P Program requirements.  Going forward, sales of albums in digital format will become eligible on the release date, while sales of albums in physical format will still become eligible for certification 30 days after the release date.

Not only do we believe it’s sensible and logical to align digital album rules with those we have maintained for digital singles since the program’s inception, we also consider today’s move in line with our larger efforts to modernize the G&P Program to reflect the new music marketplace.   In May we announced the integration of on-demand streams to the program to more broadly recognize online demand for songs.

The reality is that how fans consume music is changing, the music business is changing as labels and artists partner with a breathtaking array of new technology services, and the industry’s premier award recognizing artists’ commercial achievement should similarly keep pace.  In short, we’re continuing to move the 55-year-old program forward and it’s a good day when music sales diversification and innovative strategies meet the RIAA’s time-tested, gold standard requisites for certification.

Liz Kennedy
Director, Communications and Gold & Platinum Program, RIAA


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