Fourth of July means clean the grill and prepare the secret sauce for family Independence Day barbecue celebrations. But it also means, on the sales front, that the first half-year—Jan. 1 through June 30—has elapsed. Think of the year as an annual soccer game with two six month periods. The first period is now complete. Game is not over, but we certainly have a sense of which way the wind is blowing.
The above grid gives the quick-look details according to Nielsen SoundScan. In 2012 country album sales increased 4.1% and tracks rocketed 12.8%. The following year, 2013 however, saw albums dip almost 11% as big box stores began shrinking shelf space for CDs and inventory. Presumably these changes were in response to increasing consumer demand for downloads and streaming. Curiously tracks were off a bit, -2%, but many observers at the time felt it was just an anomaly. Fast forward to 2014 and the trend for albums, both physical and digital has accelerated into steep negative territory, -18.4%. Track sales are also falling -20.8% YTD.
GOAL TO GO
So the question facing us now is, what will 2014 look like at year end? Industry biz niks—label execs, publishers and writers know that album sales are highly dependent upon release schedules. So is country off 18.4% because the releases are light or are we seeing a marketplace trend that might carry through to year end?
To find answers we have peered into our crystal ball, examined the past and solicited sources about upcoming releases that must remain confidential. Releases planned for the second half of 2014 are powerful, but will it be enough?
The first half of 2013 and 2014 each had 37 debut releases with first week sales greater than 5,000 units. The BIG difference is that in 2013, nine of those that made the list debuted with 100K or more, while this year 2014, only three passed the 100K mark on debut week. That partially explains why 2014 country album sales, Jan. through June are currently off -18.4%
We also studied second half releases for 2012 and 13. The second half of 2012 logged 33 album debuts over 5,000 units for a total of 2.275 million debut week units. The second half of 2013 saw 31 debuts that met our criteria with total debut week sales of only 1.606 million units. The greatly reduced second half 2013 debut week sales explains why the year ended down almost 11%. The two display grid lists on the right show the second half releases for each year. A quick glance shows the large discrepancy.
2014 Q3, Q4
Here’s a list of some of the announced releases coming up this year (with dates) plus a list of unannounced releases that we suspect will appear. We’ve added Taylor Swift to the list since her previous release was two years ago—10/28/12, although we have no official word.
Announced releases include Chase Rice (8/19), Brad Paisley (8/26), Lee Brice (9/9), Tim McGraw (9/16) and Kenny Chesney (9/23). Additional, but unofficial releases we expect to see this year include Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, FGL, Little Big Town and Taylor Swift.
So if most of what we project materializes, Q3 and Q4 2014 is shaping up to be a very strong release period. According to the top grid, total 2014 country album sales through the half-year total 15.3 million units which means that the second half must scan a total “all in” of about 25 million units to break even with 2013.
So like the U.S. soccer team in its final playoff game, we are coming on strong, but will there be enough time to kick the final goals needed? NEKST will revisit the contest at the end of Q3. Go Nashville!
—David M. Ross, Neal Spielberg
Neal Spielberg, the Philadelphia, Pa. native and Nashville resident, is the CEO and president of Spielberg Entertainment (artist management) and Spielberg Consulting (music industry consultant), both originating in 2003 after 21 years with the Warner Bros. Records as head of sales.