The holiday music sales season is off to a good start, music retails say. Black Friday (Nov. 26) has left many retailers optimistic about their sales prospects for the overall holiday selling season.

In its weekly customer e-mail, Rochester, N.Y.-based Record Archive told customers that the store experienced its "most successful" Black Friday in the store's 35-year history. The retailer attributed some of the success to labels and artists who helped indie record stores offer holiday-exclusive products.

The e-mail is referring to the Back to Black Friday promotion that was put together by organizers of the annual Record Store day. Back to Black Friday featured about 30 titles, including Metallica's "Live at Grimey's" and a U2 vinyl single with an unreleased song. The titles were available exclusively in independent record stores.

Likewise, at Denver's Twist & Shout, about 40 people were lined up outside waiting for the store to open on Black Friday, according to the store's e-mail to customers. "Record Store Day exclusives were the force bringing people in," the e-mail said. "Most people were eager to get their hands on the U2 piece, but the Dylan and George Harrison pieces also did really well for us."

Music Monitor Network executive director Michael Kurtz told Billboard that early reports indicate Black Friday sales were up 20%-25% over last year, while the weekend sales overall were up 10%-15% over last year, based on conversations he had with six different Music Monitor Networks.

The strongest indie exclusive sellers were titles from U2, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Black Keys, Slayer, the Gaslight Anthem and Drive-By Truckers. At the big box stores, the big sellers for the holiday appear to have been new albums by Kanye West and Nicki Minaj.

Carl Mello, the head of purchasing at Newbury Comics, reports that the chain's same-door sales growth was up in single digits for Black Friday and the weekend. Mello also noted that the big sellers were from West and Minaj, as well as the vinyl pieces put out exclusively to indies for Black Friday.

But another chain retail said his company's stores were down about 7% in music over the weekend. He attributed that decline to the big box loss leading sales promotions on TV screens, Blu-Ray and DVD movie titles. "In order to play that game, you need to have deep pockets," that merchant said. "We went for the gross margin dollars instead." Even though the chain was off, the merchant is still optimistic about the overall holiday sales season, once the big boxes get back to their normal pricing strategies.

Besides the low prices, another big box strategy also wound up hurting music specialty chains. "The big box stores had everybody getting up at 3 a.m. in the morning to get the big bargains," the merchant says. "By 1 p.m. on Black Friday, sales started crawling to a halt as everyone was going home because they were exhausted from the early morning shopping sprees."

Another retail executive noted that the malls were packed over the weekend, while traffic was a little off at the freestanding stores. That event is a turnaround from recent years where the malls were off, while freestanding stores fared better. While that merchant said his chain's stores had good sales over the weekend, he warned that a "good Black Friday is not indicative of the season."

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