Comparing 2011 Sales With 2010

Table includes albums with 25 or less wks on the chart and with sales over 175,000 units.Data Source: Nielsen SoundScan (Wk. ended 1/2/2011)

It’s only May, but the question is starting to arise, “How will 2011 country album sales compare with the previous year?”

In the words of Nashville’s elected Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence, “It is what it is…” The true answer, of course depends upon many factors.

First we need to look at the upcoming releases planned for 2011. Secondly it would be wise to ask, where are we now? And finally, we must study last year’s successful albums. The present year’s new releases will need to match or exceed 2010 to stay even or improve.

(1.) As of the week ended 5-8-11 country finds itself down 8.5%, approximately 1.2 million album units behind this same time last year. This has been due largely to last year’s highly successful first quarter Lady Antebellum release which has not been matched this year.

(2.) Your Scribe hears unofficially about releases expected later this year from hit artists such as Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert and more that will surely be announced. But the list is still pretty short when compared with the 18 titles on our 2010 table. New artists can break out unexpectedly, but experienced bin stuffers can also sometimes underperform.

(3.) Last year’s story is easy to decipher. The graph above shows 18 current 2nd half year releases that at the end of 2010 (week ended 1/2/2011) had been on the chart for 25 weeks or less. They also must have sold 175,000 units or more. We didn’t note holiday CDs since they return each year with the frozen temps. Together these 18 albums were responsible for almost 9.23 million units or about 21% of the total 2010 country album sales. Consider them as the “bar” for 2011. (Note that Lady Antebellum’s 2010 release which earned 3 million units isn’t included in the table, since we are dealing with 3rd/4th quarter releases. We already know the results from the first half year—down 8.5%.)

Eyeing the Future
One question to ask is, will we have a new Taylor Swift album? That will make a huge difference considering the singer/songwriter’s 2010 release shifted almost 3 million units. Dividing the 9.23 million units by 18 albums, calculates to average sales per album of 515,000 units. (In reality, only one third of the 18 titles shown achieved this Gold status.) If we take Ms. Swift’s considerable units out of the mix then we get 17 albums sharing 6.3 million units or a more modest 371,000 units each. So one must ask, “Do we expect to launch 17 new releases in the last half of 2011 that can each sell at least 371k?” That is far from a slam dunk.

Looking at the bright side, there is also a real possibility that an unexpected artist will catch fire and burn up the sales charts. In the meantime, “It is what it is.”

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About the Author

David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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