Quick: when do new releases go on sale? Answer: it depends.
Wait. Back up.
In the old days–say, pre-1980, long before the Internet–there was no standard release date for a new single or album. When new product was ready, it was shipped to record stores. Outlets in big cities nearer pressing plants and distribution centres got their shipments first. Stores in the hinterland got their shipments three, four, five days later. And if weather, postal strikes and other things got in the way, stores and stations in some areas of the country might be a week or more behind.
That meant the idea of a specific release date was…nebulous. It all depended on where you were. It could be Friday, Tuesday, Wednesday or whenever the records were unpacked and put on the shelves.
After a while, this became very annoying for music fans, music retailers, radio programmers and the people who compile sales charts. It wasn’t fair that big markets always got the new music first. Sales figures and radio station airplay stats came in fits and starts. This drove the people who compiled music charts nuts. Charts are the metrics by which the music industry determines success and failure and the lack of a reliable stream of numbers made things very difficult and inaccurate.
Eventually, though, the industry came together. It was decided that all new music should come out on the very same day in all areas.It was a great idea–except that the industry didn’t agree completely.
In the UK and Europe, for example, it was decided that records would be shipped to stores in time for everything to be on the shelves for Monday morning. In North America, shipments and the stocking of shelves was timed so that new records went on sale Tuesday morning.
Still, close enough. So what if an album came out in the UK 24 hours before it did in Canada or the US? Heck, what did it matter if a UK album came out a week before its North American version?
For years, it didn’t matter. But then came the Internet. The moment a record came out in the UK, it was ripped and uploaded to file-sharing sites, completely negating the need for a significant number of people to buy the record in North America on Tuesday.
A further wrinkle came when stores like Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Amazon began cutting special exclusive deals that saw big-name records released “off-cycle”–that is, any other day than Tuesday. Again, this messed up the continuity of sales statistics for the chart people and confused the record-buying public.
Meanwhile, radio had it all figured out. Using secure digital delivery services like DMDS, all radio stations–all media outlets, actually–receive music at exactly the same time, no matter where they might be. If word comes down that, say, the new U2 single will be available at 6:00 GMT Friday, every DMDS-enabled station around the planet will get access to that song at 6:00 GMT Friday.
But when it comes to retail, the industry has stubbornly stuck to the Monday(UK)/Tuesday (North America) rule. In a world where retail is dominated by online stores like iTunes and Amazon and with streaming making the purchase of music unnecessary, why keep the old system in place?
The good news is that the music industry is talking about bringing things up to date. According to Billboard, discussions are underway to set a common global release day–possibly Friday–to come into effect by July 2015. Why Friday? Because that’s the release day in Australia and it kinda works well with time zones.
It’s not a done deal, but we seem to be moving in that direction. About time, if you ask me.
(Thanks to Bobby for the link.)