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News December 4, 2020

Where are the big Christmas releases? Blame COVID, streaming and social media [Op-Ed]

Senior Journalist, B2B
Where are the big Christmas releases? Blame COVID, streaming and social media [Op-Ed]

It’s that most magical time of the year. Toys in every store, Mariah Carey is invading our earspace, you can almost smell the holidays.

Something is, however, missing from the Christmas mix. Where are the big releases?

No, not those perky Christmas-themed numbers. We’ve more than enough of those, thanks to the JoBros, Dolly Parton, Robbie Williams, Megan Trainor and every pop singer chasing a Crimbo playlist spot for the rest of days.

The real presents. The blockbuster album releases.

Study the list of all-time best-sellers. Apart from selling bucketloads, there’s a less obvious theme. And it has a lot to do with Santa.

The biggest of them all, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, dropped on Nov. 30, 1982. Just in time for Christmas.

Soundtracks to The Bodyguard and Saturday Night Fever also arrived in November, as did The Beatles’ 2000 compilation 1.

Not so long ago, albums were considered perfectly-formed gifts for December 25.

CDs for display in a store

The record industry, never one to miss an opportunity, would typically keep their frontline releases until the fourth quarter, for under the Christmas tree.

Before Spotify came along, 40 percent of all record sales were done in the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas. An imperfect model which is no longer the case.

The flood of Xmas hits this year is looking more like a trickle. Outside of new releases from Paul McCartney, The Avalanches and Shawn Mendes it’s, well, pretty dry.

So, what happened? Three things. COVID, streaming and social media.

The first is well reported, and it’s also put a huge dent in the movie industry. Cinemas are starved of box-office treats, as studios hang onto their prizes until the crowds can return to their seats. That’s another story.

Streaming has, of course, put a huge dent in physical music sales. Nothing new there. Vinyl sales continue to grow, yes, but it’s a small market. The CD format is heading for extinction. Finding the new McCartney CD to give mum might pose a bigger challenge than cooking Christmas dinner.

Image of a vinyl record on a record player

The clincher is social media.

With their social media accounts, artists have moved the industry away from that late-year binge, and spread out the release strategy.

In 2020, musicians can dictate the marketing strategy, they now have the power to alert their fans when their music is ready. When Taylor Swift wanted to share Folklore, you can be certain she didn’t keep it a secret with her 87 million Twitter followers, 70 million Facebook fans and her 140 million supporters on Instagram. Or risk it being buried along with everything else in Q4.

Social media crushed the final quarter glut.

It’s something to mull over when you’re munching on prawns later this month, when Mariah is in your ear, again. And when you realise no one gave you the gift of music.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.


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