Leave it to brash punk-pop icon Green Day to inject some much-needed life into the U.S. pop charts. The band’s latest concept-driven collection for Reprise/Warner Bros., “21st Century Breakdown,” which was released off-cycle on a Friday rather than the typical Tuesday, sold 214,000 copies through Sunday, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The figure is close to what the group’s previous album, 2004’s critically acclaimed “American Idiot,” sold in a full week -- that Grammy Award-winning effort opened with 267,000 copies and has sold 5.9 million to date.
Green Day’s album marks the unofficial start of what will be a busy summer season for music retailers -- with new material from major artists such as the Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, the Jonas Brothers and Lil Wayne on tap -- and it can’t come fast enough, as far as beleaguered merchants are concerned.
Total sales for the first few months of 2009 stand at 136.4 million, down from 157.4 million a year ago and 177.1 million in 2007.
In perhaps even more distressing news, although digital album sales have grown, the pace has slowed.
Through the sales week that ended Sunday, SoundScan reports, consumers bought 28.9 million digital albums in 2009. That’s up from 24 million for the same period a year earlier, but not quite as big a leap as there was from 2007 to 2008.
Additionally, in its recent earning report, Warner Music Group touted a 6% growth in revenue from digital sales, but that’s off from a 48% increase reported for the same quarter last year.
With the latest from Interscope artist Eminem, “Relapse,” hitting stores this week, and more new albums from best-selling artists on the horizon, retailers are hoping for some recession relief.
Green Day’s debut comes one week after R&B; singer Chrisette Michele led the chart with 83,000 copies of “Epiphany” sold, the lowest total for an album debuting at No. 1 since SoundScan began tracking data in 1991.
“When you’re going into a situation like the one we’re in, where unemployment is 10% and people are broke, you look at successes differently,” said Karen Pearson, general manager at Amoeba Music. “It’s not that there’s a lack of faith or consumer loyalty. It’s sheer economics. People don’t walk in, because they’re on a budget.”
U2’s Interscope effort “No Line on the Horizon” and the Disney soundtrack to “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” both of which have topped 892,000 in sales, remain the biggest releases of 2009.
Rapper Eminem, back from a five-year hiatus from recording, is expected to reach No. 1 with the biggest debut of the year at about half a million copies sold. That number, though, is nowhere near the 1.6 million his 2005 “Encore” sold in its first 10 days of release.
The transition from physical to digital sales is still very much a work in progress for labels. Warner Music Group reported a net loss of $68 million, largely related to its investments in digital streaming services Imeem and Lala.
The promise of ad-supported streaming services isn’t paying off financially, labels agree.
“None of that has worked out as a source of revenue for us,” said Jon Strickland, head of sales at Silver Lake-based Epitaph Records. “That said, there’s a huge marketing thing that happens on those services. I don’t think there’s anything out there right now that’s going to take the place of selling a CD.”
“21st Century Breakdown” illustrated the ever-shifting value of the album in today’s transitory world, with a digital download retailing for $14.99 at Apple’s iTunes store and $4.99 at Amazon.com the day it was released. Warner Music Group did not return calls requesting comment about the variable pricing structure.
Music fans can expect to see more options when it comes to pricing and what they get for their money.
For Eminem’s “Relapse,” Interscope is offering packages that range from $14.99 to $129.99 -- CDs at the higher end of the price spectrum will be bundled with T-shirts or autographed prints.
Epitaph will do a similar rollout with its hotly anticipated release “Let the Dominoes Fall” from punk veterans Rancid on June 2.
“What you’ll see is a more flexibility and changes in pricing,” said a major label executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wanting to appear as a spokesperson. “Tracks won’t sell for 99 cents and albums won’t sell for $9.99. You’ll see premium albums at $14.99, and some albums at $6.99 and lower. What you’re seeing is a very rigid landscape being broken up into a kaleidoscope of pricing.”