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Metallica, Morissette just weren't enough to stop a Warner Music Group sale

May 6, 2011 |  4:35 pm


Warner Music Group
has once again changed hands, but Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield can rest assured that they appear to have done everything in their power to boost WMG's profitability. Metallica's self-titled 1991 effort, also known as "The Black Album," remains the bestselling album of the Nielsen SoundScan era.

The media research firm began tracking sales data in 1991, and as of Jan. 2, 2011, the Elektra-branded "Metallica" had sold more than 15.6 million copies in the U.S., giving it a hearty lead over any competitors. WMG has one other album among the top-selling of the SoundScan era, and that honor goes to Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill." Her Maverick/Reprise effort has sold more than 14.6 million copies in the U.S. since its 1995 release. 

But WMG posted a net loss of $143 million in sales last year. Worse, if one takes a more narrow look at recent sales history, WMG didn't have the strongest of showings. 

In Nielsen's end-of-decade-data, for the period running Jan. 1, 2000, to Nov. 1, 2009 -- only one WMG artist had a spot in the top 10. Linkin Park's 2000 Warner Bros. release "Hybrid Theory" placed at No. 7, having sold more than 9.6 million during the 10-year period. 

What do all three albums have in common? They were issued by WMG prior to the Edgar Bronfman Jr. era. Bronfman Jr. purchased the company in 2004, and recent history hasn't been kind to the major. For two years running, the label has posted a net sales loss of $100 million or greater, and neither in 2009 nor 2010 did WMG have one of the year's bestselling albums.

That being said, WMG had something of a banner year in 2008, when releases from the likes of Kid Rock, Metallica and T.I. were among the year's bestselling albums. The label in 2008 had a market share of 21.4%, which placed it third among the four majors. In 2010, WMG's market share dipped to 20%. 

-- Todd Martens


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Image: Metallica. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times