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Blog: No Doubt about the decline of the single

The apparent wider public indifference to the return of No Doubt has been reflected in some particularly poor sales figures - the release of which have drawn a fair bit of reflection online. Weekly sales figures are not generally discussed; just about the only time you see them mentioned is when an album reaches number one with particularly paltry sales.

No Doubt's 'Looking Hot' scraped less than 1,500 sales, taking it to the heady heights of number 397 in the charts. Its parent album Push and Shove stumbled into the Top 20 on the back of a grand 7,000 sales. Quite a comedown for an act that managed to move more than 16 million copies of Tragic Kingdom back in the day.

It's worth saying these 1,500 sales are downloads only. You can't, as far as I'm aware, walk into a shop and buy a physical copy anywhere. So to call these releases 'singles' is a bit of a misnomer. What actually happens is that some tracks are given push dates, regardless of the fact it may have been selling steadily ever since the album hit the digital stores. These push dates don't even tie up with video releases - we're still seeing videos hit YouTube weeks, sometimes months, ahead of the ability to actually purchase the track itself - continuing the music industry's blinkered approach to distribution and further facilitating piracy.

Behind the slightly snarky reporting lies the fact that the single, as generations of pop fans understood it, is an increasingly damaged format. Tracks still sell - often in huge numbers - but the single, as a standalone entity, with artwork and supporting tracks hangs on by the skin of its teeth. Certainly for No Doubt's core audience, there is no point in buying 'Looking Hot'. As a fan, you already have the track on the album. You can't buy a CD single to add to your collection. There are no b-sides to entice you into re-buying the track as part of a download package. Again, it's a strange industry that can't think of a way to sell product to a captive audience.

1,500 additional sales, even with the support of an X Factor appearance, doesn't seem so bad then. And the album did make #3 Stateside. With the band about to play a seven night residency in California later this month, thoughts will presumably be turning to the possibility of more dates next year (what chance Reading and Leeds?). Maybe then we'll have a better idea of how much British audiences still love Gwen and co.

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