Weekly Register: Sales Departments Are A Worrisome Lot

This week’s chart data sums the first five months of 2012, a significant time span. And, as our grid chart shows, country album sales (+6.5%) are outperforming the overall industry (-2.6%). That’s welcome news, but sales departments are a worrisome lot, always measuring what lies around the corner and how it might compare with the previous year’s offerings.

Last year during June and July 2011 we had a busy release schedule. June featured releases from Randy Travis (19k), Ronnie Dunn (45k) and Justin Moore (65k). In July 2011 we saw offerings from Lauren Alaina (20k), Scotty McCreery (40k), Chris Young (73k), Blake Shelton (116k) and Eric Church (145k). All added together that accounts for about 525,000 debut week units. Add in a few of the unmentioned lower scoring debuts and we can round up safely to 550k. Will we find half a million plus debut week units on deck for 2012 during the same time period?

Our 2012 calendar shows June/July headliner releases scheduled from Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band. Considering that only a few weeks ago Carrie Underwood blew onto the charts with a 267k debut week, it appears that the three upcoming projects could average about 166k each and contribute enough to keep debut sales mostly constant with last year. Still, when you look at this week’s Country Current Top 75 chart (down 2% compared with last week), and see positions 28-75 are all under 2,000 units, for the second consecutive week, it is worrisome.

Another factor is that we had eight major June/July debuts last year vs. the three now on our radar for 2012. Debut week totals are a nice SoundScan shorthand for estimating, but don’t forget week two sales also swell totals and cash coffers. So this writer would opine that unless we see a few more last minute offerings appear on the 2012 schedule, we should expect country’s 6.5% sales lead to shrink and move closer to the overall industry number by around the end of July.

But take heart, January through August sales are really only like foreplay. The real sales lovemaking begins during the last four months of the year when labels line up to take advantage of holiday fever.

Albums
Debuts this week from Ronnie Dunn (No. 14; 6k) and the venerable Oak Ridge Boys (No. 29; 1.9k) couldn’t keep the Top 75 total from slipping under 300k. (Actually, Mr. Dunn’s debut was more of a re-release through Cracker Barrel with two new tracks.) Study the two grids and you will note a gradual erosion of gains mostly across the board for Country and All-Genre, but no strong swings. As we often repeat in this column, release schedules are the single largest factor in the sales game but seldom match up exactly from year to year.

Glancing at the Top 200 Albums chart, John Mayer caps the list with a debut of almost 220k units, 67% of which was in digital format.

Tracks
Yes, albums bring in the biggest revenues, but tracks are often the first place to study consumer trends with respect to new songs. Did you notice that country consumers have boosted track sales up 18% this year? (Can we all raise our hands and say Apple, Android, Smartphone…)

For example, platinum and almost platinum songs from Luke Bryan and Eric Church have been landing near the top of the list for weeks. So should we be surprised to see their albums also Top 5? (Of course not.) But you can also get out ahead of the album sales curve by studying the tracks chart. Gloriana has a new song, “Good Night,” that jumped from No. 14 to No. 3 climbing 162% in unit sales in one week. (They performed it on the Bachelorette.) Something happening there for sure. And Little Big Town’s latest “Pontoon” debuts at No. 11 with 32k units. Let’s see how that does next week.

As usual, post your Weekly Register comments below, tweet ’em out or send me a note, and thanks for reading…

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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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