Is Streaming Killing Q4 Blockbuster Album Releases?

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If you follow album releases, you’ll have noticed that outside of a couple of big records (Florence + the Machine, Blur, Noel Gallagher), we haven’t seen much in the way of true blockbuster releases. (And don’t point to Taylor Swift; 1989 came out last October.)  That’s because over the last number of years, record labels have moved almost all of their biggest releases to the fourth quarter. Everyone wants to capitalize on back to school, winter cocooning, Black Friday and the Christmas rush. To wit:

September 4:

  • Iron Maiden, Book of Souls

September 7:

  • Prince, HITNRUN

September 11:

  • Slayer, Repentless

September 18:

  • Chris Cornell, Higher Truth
  • Duran Duran, Paper Gods
  • Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart
  • Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon
  • Metric, Pagans in Vegas

September 25

  • Avicii, Stories
  • Don Henley, Cass County
  • Dead Weather, Dodge & Burn
  • Silversun Pickups, Better Nature

October 2:

  • Sheepdogs, Future Nostalgia

October 9:

  • City and Colour, If I Should Go Before You
  • Selena Gomez, Revival
  • Toby Keith, 35 MPH Town

October 23:

  • Rod Stewart, Another Country

November 13:

  • Justin Bieber, TBA
  • Adele (?), TBA

Plus there’s supposed to be a Red Hot Chili Peppers album and records from Cee Lo Green, Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Kanye West (maybe),  Rihanna (also maybe), T-Pain, Tim McGraw and TLC. (More album release dates here.)

There is, however, a theory of back-filling the fiscal with big releases is coming to an end. And what’s going to kill this practice? Streaming. From Billboard:

Last Oct. 27, Taylor Swift released what the country-crossover star called her “first documented pop album,” 1989. By year’s end, it had already sold 3.7 million copies, according to Nielsen Music. Swift’s blockbuster, not available on Spotify, might be among the last of its kind: big pop albums issued in the fall to take advantage of the holiday shopping season.

Whether on vinyl, cassette or CD, albums historically have made cheap, convenient stocking-stuffers, as families swarmed shopping malls and big-box retailers. So labels — and executives trying to make their annual numbers — have come to rely on a bounty of fourth-quarter releases. (This fall’s offerings range from albums by 5 Seconds of Summer to Justin Bieber.) With the rise of digital downloads, the post-Thanksgiving sales boost often stretched into the next year. “Folks would get iPods over Christmas, and we always saw a jump in digital [sales] in January,” says Russ Crupnick, managing director at research firm MusicWatch.

Streaming services threaten recorded music’s traditional schedule. Full access to Spotify, Apple Music and their ilk requires a paid monthly subscription, whereas album and song downloads are a la carte. As consumers gradually move away from buying a particular album and toward paying $10 a month into the record business as a whole, industry observers and executives see less imperative behind an October street date.

Interesting, no? Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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