What Should The Suits Blame: The Economy Or The Leaks?

Dan Gibson | December 2, 2008 12:00 pm

The hand-wringing over Kanye West’s and Guns N’ Roses’ disappointing sales figures last week has begun, and lots of fingers seem to be pointing toward the economy, the decline of the music industry as a whole, and Axl Rose’s reclusive nature. But should someone maybe point out that people aren’t buying the discs because they heard them already and felt like they could live without the return of Axl and the rise of Autotune?

Billboard noted that the entire market was down, along with the headliners.

Music sales were down anywhere from 10% to 30% and hit albums released for Black Friday didn’t perform up to expectations, according to merchants contacted by Billboard. Sources say Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak” will sell in the range of 425,000-450,000 units, significantly down from 700,000-975,000 units previously projected.

Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” is expected to clock in at 250,000-260,000, which is also down from expectations that it would sell anywhere from 300,000-784,000 units.

Some might say that if sales for music are down in general from last year, it would follow that big titles’ sales would be disappointing as well. However, isn’t that reversing the cause and the effect? If another 500,000 customers would have headed into the music section of their favorite store to pick up the Kanye disc, wouldn’t the entire market have risen as well?

Maybe the problem isn’t the economy, but the bad the pre-release leak buzz for both discs. It wasn’t that long ago that Lil Wayne and Coldplay eclipsed the gold standard in their albums’ first week on shelves, and although the economy has taken a decided turn for the worse since, there weren’t millions of additional customers flooding stores during either of those earlier sales weeks. Maybe my real question is: What would Weezy have sold if Tha Carter III hit stores last week instead? I realize that it’s impossible to come up with a definitive answer, but on a personal note, I purchased each previous Kanye disc on its release date, but didn’t feel the need to get 808s, despite the snappy cover. After hearing the leak, I knew I wouldn’t be listening to the disc once 2009 rolled around, and I decided to spend my money on something else (a Wii game, incidentally).

Did you feel the same way? What’s really to blame for the disappointing bottom line?

Kanye, Guns N’ Roses Post Slow Debut-Week Sales [Billboard]