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U2, Eminem, Lil Jon Bring Late Relief to Retailers

New York – Christmas sales came in the nick of time, saving the holiday selling season for most merchants at the last minute.

After watching sales waver on an almost daily basis in the first half of December, most retailers say that because the weeks before and after Christmas were strong, stores could top last year’s numbers.

“Christmas was late coming, but once it did, it came crushing in,” says Geoffrey Caruso, manager of the Amoeba store in Berkeley, Calif. “In the first part of December, it vacillated from day to day.”

Indeed, Nielsen SoundScan numbers confirm that for the week ending Dec. 27, U.S. album sales totaled 32.7 million units, up 4.5% from 31.3 million in the corresponding week last year. The positive results stopped a 14-week slide in album sales, and ensured the U.S. industry would finish up for the year.

The big-selling titles varied among the chains. But those most consistently cited by merchants were U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” Eminem’s “Encore,” Nirvana’s “With the Lights Out” boxed set, Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’s “Crunk Juice,” Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company,” “MTV Ultimate Mash-Ups Presents Jay-Z and Linkin Park: Collision Course” and, in particular, Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

The Green Day album may not have been the biggest seller of the holiday, but it came out of nowhere to catch fire in the last two weeks.

“Green Day actually broke out,” Amoeba’s Caruso says. “It was a good seller for about a week or two before it just zoomed.”

In fact, some merchants report that Warner Bros. Records had a little trouble keeping “American Idiot,” as well as Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” in stock. Others report that “With the Lights Out” suffered some outages, and most independent stores and chains complained about the unavailability of “A John Waters Christmas” for almost a week during the selling season.

Although discounting was more rampant than usual for the holiday season at the big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City, indie merchants reported good business.

Most merchants agree that it was generally a DVD Christmas, highlighted by such releases as arthouse smash “Napoleon Dynamite,” A Perfect Circle’s new “aMOTION,” the first and second seasons of “Seinfeld” and Incubus’ “Live at Red Rocks.” For music, they say, it was generally a catalog Christmas, as the hits weren’t as strong this year as last.

“Personally, I don’t get excited about selling video, but you have to respond to your customers,” says Brett Wickard, president of the 10-unit Bull Moose chain of Portland, Maine. “They love DVDs, and God bless them, people are getting used to going to record stores for DVDs, not just music.”

Videogames also did well. “Halo,” “Halo 2” and “Grand Theft Auto” were big at the five-unit Dimple chain of Sacramento, Calif., as were some games with sports themes. But if it weren’t for PlayStation 2 outages, “we could have done a lot more,” says Dimple’s Dilyn Radakovitz.

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