Black Friday Brings Rough Sales Numbers for Music Retailers, High Notes for Vinyl and Online

Brandon Lyon/RCA

Pentatonix photographed by Brandon Lyon.

Even though the Black Friday weekend had even more shopping hours this year -- thanks to merchants opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day itself -- sales slumped enough that some industry executives are worried that it's a harbinger for how the overall holiday shopping season will perform.

According to Nielsen Music, album sales declined 15.2 percent for the week ending Nov. 30, when sales were 7.28 million units, versus the nearly 8.6 million units scanned last year during the corresponding week ending Dec. 1. That decline is significantly higher than the 12.3 percent decline in album sales that the industry has experienced so far this year.

Merchants say they have their fingers crossed that the weak opening will not carry over throughout the remaining holiday shopping days this year. While overall sales were depressed, there were a couple of bright spots.

For one, the online CD sales and mail-order sector saw sales increase by 16.5 percent this year, producing just above 1 million units in sales. In addition, vinyl album sales jumped nearly 50 percent to 259,000 units from 173,000 units, thanks to the Record Store Day "Back To Black" titles. According to the Record Store Day website, about 100 titles were offered at indie record stores across the U.S.

The surprise seller turned out to be Pentatonix's That's Christmas To Me, which scanned 217,000 units and looks like it will be this year's Christmas album for the masses.

Alliance Entertainment, which is the largest provider of CD fulfillment services for online stores, said their company experienced double-digit growth over the weekend and including Monday. "Our biggest day by far was Thanksgiving, followed by Black Friday and then Cyber Monday," says a company spokesman, who didn't want to be quoted by name. "Thanksgiving was awesome. It was our biggest day ever."

In addition, "our vinyl sales took a quantum leap over last year," the spokesman said. "It's amazing what has happened with vinyl. It's like everybody discovered this awesome new technology and here we are, over 50 years after it was invented, and it's a hit all over again."

At the big boxes and chains, music was featured in circulars but, as is to be expected, the category ceded major space to DVDs, which dominated most entertainment software advertising. As it was, Hastings Entertainment appeared to have the lowest frontline pricing, offering six frontline titles at $4.99, with three each being offered on Friday and Saturday. Friday's titles included the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and new albums from Maroon 5 and Godsmack albums, while Saturday saw the new albums from Jeezy, Little Big Town and Pentatonix at that price point.

Most other merchants, including Target, Best Buy and Walmart, priced new frontline titles at about $7. But sources say that the big boxes turned in lackluster results.

In addition to worries about whether sales will pick up as the holiday season progresses, some merchants are worried that they may have to resort to heavier discounting to bring buyers into the store -- which, of course, will translate into reduced profits.