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Wild Debut for ‘Eminem Show’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“The Eminem Show” was supposed to arrive in stores today with a flourish, the most eagerly awaited album of the year with the marketing machine of the world’s largest record company behind it. Instead, the debut of “The Eminem Show” played out over an entire weekend like a ragged fire drill, with Internet piracy and retail chaos sounding the alarms.

And in a testament to Eminem’s drawing power, he will probably emerge from the smoke Wednesday with a No. 1 album on the weekly U.S. pop chart after reportedly selling 300,000 copies by the chart’s Sunday night cutoff point.

Depending where you were, “The Eminem Show” went on sale on Friday or Saturday or Sunday, a wildly unusual scenario in an industry that rigidly releases new titles on Tuesday. The reason was that Aftermath/Interscope Records had rushed the album and repeatedly pushed up the release date to limit the damage done by widespread online piracy. But the hurry-up was complicated by holiday weekend shipping schedules and antsy retailers wondering whether the guy down the street was already selling what could be the hottest disc of 2002.

“It was a very difficult weekend and hard to keep up with the most current and correct information about what was going on,” said Scott Levin, an executive with the Musicland store chain. “It was hard to know what was going on.”

Fans were lucky if they knew the album was out at all. “The Eminem Show” was originally scheduled for a June 4 release, but a flurry of bootleg copies spreading on the Internet in recent weeks prompted the rhymer and his handlers to abruptly push that up to today.

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On Friday, though, Interscope announced the album would be available this past Sunday, in time to cash in on the holiday retail crowds--then later Friday the label said even that plan was uncertain.

The album’s premature release may have cost Eminem some pop chart honors. The copies that sold last weekend will undermine his chances of selling a million copies in a single chart week. The rapper’s last disc, 2000’s “The Marshall Mathers LP,” sold 1.76 million in its debut week, the highest total ever by a solo artist, and some forecasters were expecting the new disc to sell in the range of 1.2 million copies in its first week, according to Geoff Mayfield, director of charts for Billboard.

“If hundreds of thousands of them sold [already],” Mayfield said Tuesday, “then obviously that endangers its ability to top 1 million this week.”

The piracy of the album has been rampant and perhaps unprecedented--Gracenote, a digital music service, said its surveys show the album was the second-most played CD on computers last week, the highest ranking ever for an unreleased title. To entice fans who may have already plucked the music for free online, the first 2 million copies of the album sold in the U.S. will include a free DVD with Eminem special features.


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