NEW YORK (AFP) - Gold and platinum albums - the sales certifications coveted by musicians and their labels - will now also be based on plays by streaming, in recognition of the online services' growing importance.
The Recording Industry Association of America announced the change Monday and immediately declared new gold or platinum status for 17 albums based on streaming.
"We know that music listening - for both for albums and songs - is skyrocketing, yet that trend has not been reflected in our album certifications," said Cary Sherman, chairman and chief executive officer of the US industry body.
"Modernising our album award to include music streaming is the next logical step in the continued evolution of gold and platinum awards, and doing so enables RIAA to fully reward the success of artists' albums today," he said in a statement.
The industry association already in 2013 began to consider streaming in its certifications of singles, for which physical sales have become almost obsolete except among collectors.
Nielsen Soundscan, which tracks sales for the benchmark weekly Billboard chart, has been factoring in streaming since 2014.
Gold and platinum certifications, which are determined independently of the Billboard chart, are among the most desired awards in the music industry, with framed records a common sight on the walls of label offices and studios.
In the United States, gold means a title has sold 500,000 copies and platinum indicates one million.
Thanks to streaming, the top-selling album of all time got even bigger - Michael Jackson's Thriller. The groundbreaking 1982 album is now 32-times multi-platinum, meaning it has sold 32 million copies in the United States.
Just in December, Thriller broke a threshold by becoming the first album to hit 30-times multi-platinum, even without streaming.
Among other new certifications thanks to streaming, rapper Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly was certified as platinum.
Lamar has earned 11 nominations at this month's Grammy Awards - more in a single night than anyone but Jackson - thanks to To Pimp a Butterfly, a meditative reflection on race relations and the California rapper's career.
Under the formula announced Monday, a title would be counted as selling one album for every 1,500 audio or video streams.
The streams would need to take place via an on-demand site such as Spotify rather than on Pandora or other online radio stations.
Streaming sites have soared in popularity in recent years, with revenue from digital music edging out physical sales in 2014, the last year for which worldwide data was available.
RIAA only looks at US sales, with groups in other countries using separate criteria.