With streaming curtailing downloads and the holiday shopping season suffering sales erosion in five of the last seven years, retailers can feel buoyed by how the fourth-quarter release schedule is shaping up.
One music retailer says that October alone could be the strongest in years, although some of the releases he cited may be pushed to later in the quarter. But, so as long as those anticipated releases stay in the fourth quarter, then the retail sector won't be able to point any fingers at a weak release schedule over disappointing numbers.
So far this year, digital album sales are down 11.3%, digital track sales are down 12.8%, and overall album sales are down 14.4%. Retailers, unsurprisingly, say these stats translate into a discouraging trend. Last year's final quarter was the weakest since the advent of SoundScan, accounting for 29.1% of the year's total album sales, down from 30.9% of annual sales in each the prior two years, falling from 33.2% of annual sales in 2007.
Four titles are coming that could be juggernaut sales blockbusters, including Taylor Swift, who hit a million units in the debut week on her last album, Red, which went onto sell over 4 million units; and Jason Aldean, whose last album Night Train, released in 2012, scanned over 409,000 units in its debut week.
The street dates for two other artists -- One Direction and Lil' Wayne -- once expected to be released in October, are still scheduled for the holiday season. The last time Lil' Wayne released a new iteration of Tha Carter, it almost hit 1 million units -- 964,0000 to be exact -- in its debut week ending Sept. 4, 2011. One Direction's Midnight Memories scanned 546,000 units in the week ending Dec. 1, 2013.
The releases of Taylor Swift and Lil' Wayne beg the question of whether or not either still has a shot at moving a million during debut week -- the ultimate prize among label executives -- in a market where streaming appears to be cannibalizing download sales. Executives point to Swift as the artist more likely to reach that particular height of heights.
Those four titles aren't the only ones that merchants are pinning their fourth quarter hopes on, however. The overall schedule also includes titles from Ne-Yo, Foo Fighters, Maroon 5, Bob Seger, Idina Menzell, Annie Lennox, Raekwon, Colbie Caillat, Kanye West, and Usher. Add to that a strong slate of country releases including Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, and Little Big Town. Last but not ever least, there will be a Beatles vinyl box set containing all of the group's original mono albums, which will also be made available individually. Universal Music Enterprises has pressed 1 million discs for the box set and the various individual titles. The company is expected to ship 35,000 of the 14-disc box set and an estimated 400,000-450,000 combined of the individual titles.
"I am encouraged by the release schedule; its a diverse release schedule that can satisfy all of our customers," Laura Provenzano, vp of purchasing for Alliance Entertainment, the second-largest U.S. music wholesaler, tells Billboard. "If the stars align and everything comes out, it could be a really good October," which, she adds, could make for a strong holiday season overall, since the releases would be available through the end of the year instead of being jammed into the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
One retail executive tells Billboard he is so optimistic about the fourth quarter that he is upping his music sales projections.
There are a lot of "long-term projects that will keep giving [sales] into the first quarter [of 2015]," says Provenzano.