Enjoy the Holiday Release Crush!

There Will Be A Fierce Year-End Competition
With the crucial holiday-sales season already under way, the record labels may be relying on an unsuccessful strategy to boost their year-end numbers: releasing all of their biggest records in just a few weeks in November. Though new albums from System of a Down and Beck have been delayed until next year, retail experts say that the crush of major acts including Eminem, U2, Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg and Destiny’s Child threatens to keep all but a couple of artists from scoring blockbuster sales.
“We believe the consumer has only a certain amount of money to spend,” says Virgin Megastores’ Jerry Suarez. “Just because the labels release a lot of records doesn’t mean the consumer inherited a lot of money. Everything can’t sell a million copies its first week, and consumers have to make a choice.” Suarez notes that Destiny’s Child, who bumped up their release date one day, to November 15th, following a leak, may have fared better had their album come out in October, rather than going head-to-head with an unbeatable Eminem.
“The retailers were hoping we’d stagger the releases more,” says one label exec. “But no matter how you look at it, we do our biggest volume at the end of the year. There are more people in the stores, and everyone thinks their artist has a chance to rise above the clutter.”
Releasing big albums for the holidays is nothing new. But in previous years, blockbusters were spread out over three or four months, rather than three or four weeks. “We’ve had seven or eight weeks this fall where sales have gone down,” says Billboard charts editor Geoff Mayfield. “If some of these albums had dropped sooner, the artists would have had a better chance of at least one week at Number One.”
Worse yet, the pressure is on for the labels not to squander their first chance since 2000 to end the year with a rise in sales. In the first nine months of 2004, sales were up 5.8 percent from last year. But following a soft September and October, that margin has narrowed to four percent. “By the time we’re done,” says Mayfield, “we may only be up two or three percent. But I don’t want to be too much of an alarmist; it’s better than three years of decline.”