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Sales slump is no dream

Times Staff Writer

YES, it looks bad for the record industry that the top-selling album in the country last week, the “Dreamgirls” soundtrack, sold just 66,000 copies -- the lowest figure for a No. 1 album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. If it had posted that figure two weeks ago, it would have reached just No. 61.

It doesn’t help that the traditional post-holiday sales slump resulted in an average drop of almost 44% in sales of albums that made the latest Top 10 list.

“My sense is that people are panicking about it, but it’s probably too early to panic,” says Geoff Mayfield, director of charts for Billboard, which bases its chart numbers on the Nielsen SoundScan data.

Mayfield notes that in the case of the “Dreamgirls” figure, there are two “Dreamgirls” albums on the chart: a single CD and an expanded two-CD set with additional tracks, and that sales of the two are not lumped together. The expanded version sold 18,000 copies and landed at No. 51 on its own. Together, their sales add up to 84,000 copies -- the lowest figure for a No. 1 album of the SoundScan era.

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On the bright side for “Dreamgirls,” it’s the first time an album from a traditional musical has made it to No. 1 in ages, Mayfield says.

Total music sales, however, were down a more modest 17% from the previous week, much more typical of what happens each January, Mayfield says.

More than statistical anomalies are at work: There are roughly 800 fewer retail stores in business today compared with one year ago after the closures during 2006 of the Tower and Musicland chains. Consequently, “it’s no surprise you end up with fewer albums sold a year later,” Mayfield says. “I think there’s absolutely a temptation for record companies to overreact to this. But let’s see how the year progresses.”

Only two new albums appeared in the entire Top 100: Carly Simon’s “Into White,” which sold 40,000 and debuts at No. 15, and “The Essential Elvis,” a new Elvis Presley hits compilation. It sold 13,000 copies its first week, enough to put it at No. 72.

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randy.lewis@latimes.com


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