The Mercury Effect

13 September 2012

A little later then normal we are finally in that yearly UK music industry shit storm that is the Mercury Prize. As per normal the list is “uninspiring” and “does it really represent the best of UK music this year” and “why wasn’t [obscure eletro/metal/folk artist] nominated?!?”.

Side note – it’s entirely possible I follow too many music journalists on Twitter.

For the record there’s a couple of artists on the list that I wouldn’t mind winning, but it doesn’t seem like the most interesting selection of music I’ve ever seen. Nothing that grabs me, or moves music forward in a significant way.

But the music is irrelevant really, isn’t it? What we really want are graphs!

One of the key reasons why anyone actually cares about the Mercury prize is that it has a direct effect on sales of the nominated and winning records. It’s a bit of a circular situation – the industry cares because it increases sales, and it increases sales because the industry cares. And everyone sits there hoping that every year the house of cards stays intact (which it seems to, even when they get it a bit wrong *cough* Speech Debelle).

What I was wondering is what exactly does the “Mercury Effect” look like?

Getting public sales data is a little tricky, but there is one public source you can look at – the iTunes chart. Apple publish a range of RSS feeds for the iTunes charts that you can subscribe to, so it’s fairly easy to play around with the data, track it over time and see what actually happens when you get nominated for a Mercury:

This graph updates live every 30mins or so with the new iTunes chart data, and starts from Monday 10th so you can see how things were doing before the nominations were announced at 17:30 on the 12th. I’ve also picked the highest format in the case where a release has deluxe and non deluxe versions.

As it stands at the time of writing the spike is pretty clear, with Django Django making the biggest jump as they weren’t even in the charts when they got announced. The releases seem to coalesce into 3 groups – Alt-J, Plan B and Ben Howard being the leading trio, who were already near the top of the charts when it was announced; then the main group (peloton?) of 6 releases in the #50-#75 range, with a final trailing clutch of 3 much further down.

It’ll be interesting to see how they all fair over the next month and a half until the announcement of the winner on November 1st…

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