Why Are Christmas Albums Released the Last Weekend of October?

Jamie Nelson
Gwen Stefani

On Oct. 26, the first major crop of Christmas releases arrived, from John Legend, Gwen Stefani and Pentatonix. But with the holiday itself two months away, what’s the rush? “The straight answer is the physical market,” says John Fleckenstein, co-president of RCA Records, Pentatonix’s label. “Christmas albums tend to be multigenerational, and thus, they skew very heavily on the physical side.”

He explains that in the United States, stores like Target and Walmart start holiday in-store marketing and positioning around Nov. 1, “so anybody who’s going for a broad-base national play with their album will need to get a physical version into stores by the end of October.”

But a prime in-store placement isn’t the only thing to consider anymore. “One of the changes that we've seen in the past few years, particularly last year, is that the streaming of Christmas music has exploded. And that will be true again this year. As much as we put a lot of focus on our physical, we also put focus on downloads and our playlisting approach because obviously streaming, like everywhere else in the industry, is ballooning for Christmas music."

He adds that he’s particularly interested to see how the increased role of connected home speakers plays into the streaming of Christmas music, noting that the Amazon Alexa was one of the chief drivers of streaming from last year and likely will be again this year.

Even as many acts continue to “chase the commerciality of the Christmas season,” he believes that there’s “one big winner every year” -- and he feels lucky that the winner has happened to be Pentatonix for the past few consecutive runs.

Pentatonix’s previous Christmas release, 2017’s A Pentatonix Christmas, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and now, according to industry forecasters, its latest arrival, Christmas Is Here!, which RCA released Oct. 26, could earn around 15,000 equivalent album units in the week ending Nov. 1. “We’ve been doing this for four years with these guys,” says Fleckenstein. “They are a force at this point.”

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of Billboard.


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