Wal-Mart's Asda Moves Into Artist Exclusives

Wal-Mart-owned U.K. mass merchant Asda has followed arch-rival Tesco's lead and signed its first exclusive CD deal with an artist -- veteran Irish singer/songwriter Chris De Burgh.

Asda has not confirmed any plans for future releases, but for De Burgh's management, the tie-up is part of a multi-faceted distribution plan.

De Burgh's 19th studio album "Mooonfleet & Other Stories" will be released Oct. 18 on his own Ferryman Productions label, with Asda handling all U.K. CD sales. The album will simultaneously be made available digitally through online music services globally.

According to BPI figures supplied by research firm Kantar Worldpanel, Asda accounted for 10.3% of U.K. physical album sales in 2009, behind Tesco's 12.6%. Tesco moved into artist album exclusives in February with Simply Red's "Songs of Love," followed dance act Faithless' "The Dance" in May. It will exclusively release the solo album by Girls Aloud member Nadine Coyle on Nov. 8.

De Burgh, a multi-million-selling albums artist, released his first album in 1975, but is best-known internationally for his 1986 hit single "The Lady in Red."

The singer's London-based manager Kenny Thomson says Asda made the first contact on the deal, through self-styled U.K. "brand and talent partnership agency" Br&nd Romance.

"I was sitting looking at the offers I did have," he recalls, "and then got this phone call from Asda saying 'we're trying to do this.' It worked for us because artists like Chris need to be TV-advertised, and you can't really do that as an independent label unless you have a partner to do it with."

"As Asda was looking to start the model," Thomson adds, "I was able to do a major TV campaign with their help. It gave us a lot more than we were going to get by going the traditional route."

Asda, acquired by Wal-Mart in 1999, claims to attract 18 million shoppers weekly to its 379 stores.

Thomson concedes the exclusive deal may ruffle feathers at retail. "Sometimes you upset people and they go 'Oh why don't I have your record in my shop,' but when you're sitting with an artist with a 40-year career, you have to take a view on every record on how you're going to get it out there."

Outside the United Kingdom, Thomson has opted for individual deals for various territories. In Germany, for example -- where De Burgh has long had a major fanbase -- the CD will appear Oct. 22 on the Sony Music-distributed Starwatch label, part of broadcast group ProSiebenSat.1. In Ireland, U.K.-based indie distributor Essential will handle the physical release on Oct. 15.

German consumers will be able to choose from three versions of the album, including one with bonus live tracks/videos which is exclusive to retailer Saturn and one packaged with a German translation of the 19th century novel "Moonfleet" by J. Meade Falkner -- De Burgh's inspiration for most of the album's songs.

The "Moonfleet" CD will appear in France in January though a distribution deal with Universal, says Thomson, while V2/Universal will handle the release in the Benelux countries. Russian label Dance Paradise will handle Russia/Ukraine.

The album's physical U.S. release date has yet to be finalised, but Thomson says it will be a targeted release. "We'll do the marketing as a viral campaign," he explains. "There's lots of different fan bases, so through a series of blogs and using Facebook, etc, we'll identify the pockets where they live and then put the records in those shops."

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