If you’ve watched the HBO series Vinyl, you’ll know that accounting for albums sold was, er, something of an inexact science. To say that sales numbers were fudged doesn’t do justice to the corruption, obfuscation and outright lying that went on.
Everything was based on units shipped (often exaggerated), estimates of sales from record stores (easily manipulated) and what can be generously called “creative accounting.”
All that changed forever on May 25, 1991 when SoundScan was introduced. Instead of relying on the human fallibility of counting records as they were sold, a sale did not register until the bar code was scanned at the checkout. This more precise method of tallying sales turned the industry upside down.
Albums that were thought to big sellers actually weren’t selling. Albums that didn’t register before shot to the top. Canada got SoundScan in 1995—and that’s how we’ve been counting sales ever since.