For the past few months, Billboard's conversion to the SoundScan system has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the record industry. With SoundScan, Billboard ranks albums using a projection of actual computer-reported album sales. Under its old system, Billboard estimated album sales based on reports from record stores, who ranked the popularity of albums at individual stores, but did not provide actual sales figures.
In the hubbub over the album charts, it seems to have escaped notice that Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart still hasn't converted to the new system. It raises an obvious question: If SoundScan provides so much valuable information, why isn't Billboard using it for its Hot 100, whose chart numbers provide record companies with a powerful weapon in convincing radio stations and retail outlets to play or stock records by the chart's most popular artists?
Perhaps a bit bruised by the controversy over its album-chart conversion to SoundScan, Billboard has quietly prepared a sample singles chart, using its new SoundScan and BDS information, which it has been faxing to record labels to gauge their reaction. "We're still experimenting with different formulas," says [Michael Ellis]. "Our charts have to be totally honest, but we don't want to do anything to hurt the industry either."