While music merchants say that they too, like retail in general, experienced a strong sales for the Black Friday weekend, some of them acknowledge that music wasn't leading the charge.
"We had a great weekend," says one chain executive. "Video games and systems blew out of the store, and devices were doing well and internet sales were great. But music didn't do so hot. We were down single digits on a comparable-store-basis." That would have been okay in the recent years, the exec noted, because no matter what they did, music sales were down. But that's not the case this year, with album sales up 2.7% year-to-date.
But indie merchants who had exclusives that the labels issued as part of Record Store Day's "Back To Black Friday," say that music sales were great over the weekend. Newbury Comics CEO Mike Dreese says music sales were up 12%-14% on Friday and Saturday, thanks to record-store day vinyl.
For its second year, major and independent labels outdid themselves with unique exclusives--mainly vinyl--at premium pricing aimed at collectors for Record Store Day indie merchants. The offering included boxed sets of 7" singles from the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Janis Joplin and Pink Floyd; and album sets from Joplin, Kings of Leon, the Grateful Dead and John Lennon.
Getting back to overall sales, for the full weekend, Dreese says Sunday was a little soft, but overall said the chain's 30 stores enjoyed a great weekend with profit margins up 25% over last year.
While the big boxes are usually tight-lipped about their music sales, one distribution executive out checking stores over the weekend said sales were strong.
"I wasn't out at midnight, but I checked out the big boxes at noon and sales were still crazy," that executive said. "And Best Buy was the craziest, and you could see that music was a part of the story."
But before Black Friday took off, things were looking bad in the morning. For example, by 11 a.m., one chain reports its sales were down 40% compared to last year. "But sales caught up and were stronger than last year by the end of the day," he says. "With all the people going to midnight sales, I guess they had to sleep in."
Moving over to the internet, while label executives say they are still not privvy to how digital sales went over the holiday weekend, online CD sales were great and started earlier than usual.
"We started getting hammered on [the] Tuesday [before Black Friday]," says Tim Hinsley, Super D's VP of retail sales, who serves as GM for the company's online store, DeepDiscount.com. He said DeepDiscount featured a 25% off sale beginning on November 20. "We made the decision to concentrate on what we do well, which is selling DVD boxsets, movies, and deep audio catalog. It took off and hasn't stopped," he said. "Compared to a normal day in October, sales now are running about double, and compared to last year's Black Friday week, we are running about 10%-12% above. Wednesday, Thursday Friday and Sunday were good, but Saturday was off the chart."
While Cyber Monday is getting a lot of press, music industry executives say their sales numbers are not yet available for that day.
Down in lower Manhattan, J&R Music & Computer World had a great day, according to Sue Bryan, GM of music and video at J&R Music World, who said the Record Store Day exclusives sold well and that the Universal Music Group's promotion helped things along. For the Black Friday week, UMG countered the annual DVD Black Friday promotions, by offering over 100 titles rebates that if featured for less than $7 and in prime in-store real estate, would net the wholesale price down to $6 or less, depending on which title was chosen by merchants.
J&R marketing manager Wayne Olsen said that the day began with a bang, thanks to the line outside the door for the Record Store Day exclusives, then the Universal hits sold well, "and at 2 p.m. we had an in-store performance by Willie Nile," so business kept going all day.
While most merchants contacted by Billboard appreciated UMG's promotion and the customized ones offered by the other majors (including Sony), Newbury Comics' Dreese said those campaigns would work better if modeled after the way the DVD industry structures its promotions for the holidays.
"They should just offer product at a low price and allow us to sell it off during the holidays," he says. "Because it's a rebate, you don't want to market it because you can't promise it without having enough coverage in all the stores. But if you order enough to get coverage in all stores, you could have a product hangover if it doesn't sell within the allotted time allowed by the promotion. This type of promotion doesn't work for 4 or 5 days."