Weak Release Slate Puts Coal In Country Sales Stockings

Like turning lemons to lemonade, it’s coal dust soufflé when you receive lumps of the black rocks in your holiday stocking. And that’s exactly what country sales departments will be forced to munch as consumers shop their way through the final three weeks of 2011.

What’s the problem you ask? Well, if Nashville had thought to release something with the appeal of Michael Buble’s Christmas album we would have had registers ringing about 480,000 times this week, owned the No. 1 album on the Top 200 all-genre chart, plus had a disc that had sold over 1.5 million units in 7 weeks. Nashville—but not country music—does have some ownership in the Black Keys who have the No. 2 disc this week with the band’s El Camino debut selling over 206,000 units. But, I’m sorry to say, country music couldn’t even muster a top ten showing this week on the all genre Top 200 album chart. Country’s best selling bin bopper was Scotty McCreery who clocks in at lucky No. 13 for the all genre crowd with sales of almost 52,000. McCreery and other performers likely got some boost from last week’s ACA Awards show, but because of the holiday time period it is hard to measure.

A brief look at our graph shows the disappointing trend. At the end of Q3 country YTD sales were ahead of last year by 9% and stretched up to 9.8% a few weeks later before starting a steady and consistent downward slide. Country album sales (physical and digital) this week totaled 1.248 million units bringing our YTD sales unit total to 38.206 million. Doing the math against last year’s total album sales—43.72—shows that breaking even with last year will require sales of 1.838 million units each week. That’s a lot of units without some truly magic shiny disc to draw people away from other format debuts, which are plentiful. Just this past week we saw Top 20 debuts from Black Keys, Amy Winehouse, the Glee Cast, Korn, The Roots and Chevelle. From Nashville—nothing.

Tracks
As we follow the tracks trail we see a bit more vibrancy. Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” was downloaded 96,000 times which would equal almost 10,000 TEA albums increasing his album sales this week by over 30%. I guess having the song performed on Glee last week didn’t hurt. YTD country track sales have passed the 135 million range which in TEA (track equivalent album) language means an additional 13.5 million albums worth of sales. However, as one of this column’s mentors and behind-the-scenes contributors would note, the 13.5 million TEA must be compared to last year’s TEA sales so we are ,”talking apples to apples.” Duly noted, and if anyone out there has last year’s TEA number broken out for country it would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, Nielsen SoundScan, our keepers of the data, did not break country tracks out on a separate chart last year and so that number remains a mystery.

Apples to apples. OK. But even so, 13.5 million albums worth of track sales is a large line item on the country music balance sheet and cannot be ignored. (135 million X $1.29=$174.2 million). Isn’t it time that TEAs became a larger part of the lingo? Focusing on tracks greatly changes the economics of the business. It’s like selling singles beers instead of 12 packs, but the world is a changing folks. And each of us has a choice when it comes to running our business. Stand in front of the train, or climb on board.

What are you going to do?

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About the Author

Journalist, entrepreneur, tech-a-phile, MusicRow magazine founder, lives in Nashville, TN. Twitter him @davidmross or read his non-music industry musings at Secrets Of The List

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