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Thanksgiving Is Mixed Bag for Retailers

New York – The Thanksgiving weekend kicked off with a bang for U.S. music retailers, turned into a whimper and rebounded nicely.

“Friday exceeded our expectations, and then Saturday was softer than expected,” reports Bob Higgins, chairman/CEO of Trans World Entertainment in Albany, N.Y. “Overall, the weekend was good and we are still positive that it will be a good holiday season.”

Likewise, Jim Urie, president of Universal Music & Video Distribution, reports: “We are getting a pretty consistent story from retail; overall, it was not great, but not horrible. Friday was great – in fact, better than great – and then Saturday and Sunday were a little bit less than expectations.”

But Nielsen SoundScan numbers indicate that music sales may have been softer than other categories carried by the mostly multimedia stores. For the week including the Thanksgiving holiday, album sales were down more than 1 million units, or 5.1%, from the corresponding week in 2003.

Specifically, sales for the week ended Nov. 28 clocked in at 19.5 million units, compared with the 20.6 million counted in last year’s Thanksgiving week.

That is the 11th straight week of down sales. Since the week ending Sept. 12, sales are off nearly 14 million units, to 133.8 million. That’s a 9% drop from the 147.6 million units sold during the same time frame last year.

In fact, the year-to-date gain compared with 2003 shrunk from 7.2% as of Sept. 12 to 2.9% as of Nov. 28.


Merchants’ business varied during the holiday period.

The week of Black Friday was the strongest of the year for Brighton, Mass.-based Newbury Comics, according to CEO Mike Dreese. “We were up 17% on a comparable-store basis, but the couple of weeks before, it were our worst of the year.”

Music was flat at the chain, while DVD sales were up 46%, Dreese says. One of the weekend’s primary drivers for Newbury Comics was the Friday release by QVC of a DVD on the Boston Red Sox’s historic victory in the baseball World Series.

The Red Sox DVD sold 3,000 copies “in its first day of availability,” Dreese says. Elsewhere in the market, distribution on the title proved spotty. “That title brought a lot of people into our stores because nobody could find it anywhere else.”

In general, multimedia merchants escaped the Saturday downturn. “We were happy with Friday, and because of our multimedia mix, we still had a good Saturday,” says John Marmaduke, president/CEO of Amarillo, Texas-based Hastings Entertainment.

Likewise, Dave Alder, executive VP at Virgin Entertainment Group North America, reports “solid” sales for the whole weekend.


The biggest-selling title of the week was U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” which sold 840,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The Nirvana boxed set also proved popular, scanning 109,000 units – a strong performance considering its $38.09 wholesale price.

Supply on hot music titles seems to be holding up, although some merchants are worried that the Nirvana box might run short for Dec. 4-5.

“We are getting dangerously low on Nirvana, and the time frame for restock is a big, fat question mark,” says Joe Nardone, VP at the 11-unit Gallery of Sound chain in Wilkes- Barre, Pa. But UMVD’s Urie says replenishment on the Universal Music Enterprises title will not be an issue.

Most independent stores had a strong weekend, according to George Balicky, VP at Galaxy Music Distributors.

In the Coalition of Independent Music Stores’ weekly e-mail to the industry, executive director Don VanCleave wrote, “With a couple of exceptions, we got reports that the weekend was fantastic. Many reported being up double-digits for the week… Many reported that DVDs were on fire and that U2 brought (customers) in the door, regardless of price.”

Value Music president Rob Perkins is optimistic about the rest of the holiday season, thanks in part to the two additional shopping days in the week before Christmas.

The industry will also benefit from the 53 weeks in 2004, he notes. “The calendar will give us a big kick at the end of the year.”

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