They may be the only places to buy an album in person in many a far-flung locale, but CD sales at big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target have plunged 17% from last year, while sales at chain stores like FYE and, uh … FYE plummeted 24%. The latter decline can be explained in at least some part by the demise of Tower Records last year, but the picture still isn’t a pretty one.
According to sources, there are a few key reasons for the mass merchants’ decline. A key issue is the lower number of titles being stocked. For example, Wal-Mart, the nation’s leading music retailer, is said to have reduced by about 15% the number of unique titles it carries. After this Christmas season, Wal-Mart is expected to reduce even more the number of titles it stocks. Another reason is that 2007 has not had the kind of mainstream hits that sell well at mass merchants. After its huge 2006 (driven by Carrie Underwood and Rascall Flats), country music has had an especially weak 2007. Country album sales are down 26% so far this year. Since mass merchants represent a huge share of country sales, that’s another reason why mass merchants sales are so far down.
National chains’ woes are well documented. Tower Records is out of business and Virgin Megastore has a new ownership and continues to lag. Trans World’s same stores music sales decreased 19% in Q2 and the company plans to close around 80 stores by the end of 2007.
It’s doubtful that Carrie Underwood’s new album Carnival Ride, which has projected first-week sales totals in the 400,000 range, will really help make up that differential in country music, especially if it doesn’t have legs; as a point of comparison, the Rascal Flatts record has sold 882,000 copies in its first three weeks on the chart, where last year’s Me & Me Gang had sold 1.239 million copies after three weeks on shelves.
Anyway, with the cuts at Wal-Mart and Trans World (which owns FYE), and the sort of ominous fact that Virgin Megastore was bought by a consortium that includes the landlords for its way-undervalued New York City stores, the likelihood of these numbers only looking worse next year is pretty high.