How Global Release Day has stuffed Thanksgiving week in the US

The following MBW blog comes from Geoff Mayfield (pictured inset), Los Angeles-based music industry consultant and a former VP of Business Analysis & Market Research, Universal Music Group. He is also a 23-year veteran of Billboard – most of which he spent as the publication’s director of charts.

One of the unintended consequences of setting Friday as the industry’s Global Release Day that I haven’t seen reported in the trades or heard mentioned in conversations I’ve had with label executives is that it subtracted one of the key release weeks of the year from the territory that generates the most revenue: Thanksgiving week in the U.S.

Prior to July’s adoption of GRD, U.S. labels would accelerate Thanksgiving week’s new releases from the then-normal Tuesday street date to Monday, allowing an extra day to deal with possible shipping headaches or better-than-anticipated demand.

It was always a week when you could count on some Pied Pipers to show up.

U2 got its biggest ever SoundScan week when “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” (pictured) arrived for Thanksgiving 2004. The Beatles’ “Anthology 1” in 1995 and Backstreet Boys’ “Black and Blue,” which scored a million-unit start in 2000, both came out that holiday week, while Kanye West and Rihanna are among the artists who scheduled that week in more recent years.

“Prior to GRD, US labels would accelerate thanksgiving week’s new releases from the then-normal tuesday street date to monday, allowing an extra day to deal with better-than-anticipated demand.”

In September, Target announced that if any albums were scheduled for Nov. 27 this year, the day after Thanksgiving (and the ‘Black Friday’ sales bonanza in the US) their stores would not stock them until some point after that key sales weekend.

This wasn’t a case of sour grapes, even though Target was among those U.S. merchants who were unhappy that album releases moved away from Tuesday.

The announcement probably wasn’t even necessary; even the most myopic label executive must have grasped that the stunning traffic stores like Target, Walmart and Best Buy see on Black Friday would make it impossible for retail staffs to take time to reset their music departments.

This doesn’t mean that achieving a uniform release schedule was a bad idea, nor that it was necessarily a bad idea to park that day closer to the weekend than the Monday street date that the UK had or the Tuesday slate the US had employed since the late ’80s.

There are no walls in a digital world, so with piracy looming as a constant threat, it makes total sense to have all territories release music on the same day.

I know from years I spent at Universal Music that in weeks when we had new albums by A-level artists, it was a real digital headache for those titles to street the prior Friday in Australia and Germany.

I can only imagine the fire drills Sony, Beggars and XL would have run this past weekend if the Australian start of Adele‘s “25” happened three days before it came out in the US and the UK. And, as a consumer of music, I can tell you that in the old Tuesday scenario, I often didn’t have time to shop for a new album until Saturday, and by then, it was likely already sold out at the stores near our home that would have the best price.

I’m smart enough to realize that if you wanted to be in stores for this year’s big Thanksgiving weekend, all you had to do was make sure your album came out on or before Nov. 20. But, my math is also good enough to realize that anything minus one is one less than it would have been if you didn’t subtract, so there’s no getting around that there is one less release week in November than there was before.

Had Global Release Day not come to be, one can safely assume Adele’s album would have arrived Nov. 23, with earlier U.S. street dates in the month scheduled for Nov. 3, 10 and 17.

“My math is good enough to realise that anything minus one is one less than it would have been before.”

Even if you want to argue that this year’s Oct. 30 crop fills the role of what a Nov. 3 slate would represent, the fact remains that labels end up with one less release date in November.

And, when hordes show up this weekend looking for a few bargain-priced TV or video games, the newest albums will have been out for at least an entire week, rather than just a few days old.

I am among those thinkers who wonder if Thursday would have been a Global Release Day that accomplished the initiative’s goals with fewer logistical hiccups, but even if that day had been adopted as the New World Order, we’d still lose this particular release week.

Again, I don’t mean for any of this to sound like an argument against Global Release Date or the U.S. move from Tuesday.

There are already enough voices to carry that chorus among both large and smaller merchants, and if you let them speak off the record, some highly ranked distribution executives share complaints about how the new strategy came to be.

I’ve heard of lots of weekend gaps happening among mass merchants’ stores, but even so, data I’ve seen at this still-early juncture suggests the move to Friday has neither slowed nor quickened the decline of CD sales. And, if big-box stores are having problems getting new albums out on a timely basis, that feels like an opportunity for independent stores and regional chains who are closer to the ground.

If there’s a negative from this Thanksgiving shuffle, having a blockbuster the magnitude of Adele’s 25 in play surely mitigates the fallout this time around.

Whatever sales total her album slides to in its second week will be bigger than most titles ever realize at their peak, especially with Thanksgiving-weekend traffic to fuel it, but how does this shift play out in later years?

It’s a “what if” variable that will be virtually impossible to quantify- but one I won’t be able to keep from pondering when future Novembers unfold.Music Business Worldwide

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