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Beggars chief supports ERA in opposing Friday global release day

By | Published on Tuesday 24 February 2015

Martin Mills

In a wide-ranging speech to wrap up the launch of the Entertainment Retailers Association’s new manifesto in London this morning, the boss of the Beggars Group, Martin Mills, expressed concerns about the global release day initiative, and in particular the current move by the major labels to set the day new releases are launched worldwide to Friday.

In that respect Mills echoed the concerns of his hosts, ERA, which has likewise spoken out about the Friday release day plans. While indie labels and the UK retailers agree in principle that having one day in the week when new releases go live in all territories makes sense, rather than the current situation where the same records go on sale on different days in different countries, they favour making the global release day earlier in the week, so that retailers get a double spike – the new release spike, and the weekend shopping spike.

The International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry put its weight behind Friday last year, saying its research suggested it was the best day for new releases. Some outside the majors have backed the proposal, though others have followed ERA’s lead in hitting out at the Friday plans; with reports now suggesting that some key American retail partners are putting pressure on the labels to switch the global release day to either Monday (as in the UK) or Tuesday (as in the US).

Mills said in his speech this morning: “I have concerns about the proposed global release day. Whilst I acknowledge the needs of a digital world for coordination, it seems to me to be crazy to throw away one of the trading week’s two peaks, and the ability to re-stock and rectify errors before the week’s second peak. And it astounds me that the major labels are not listening to their customers [the retailers], their interface with their artists’ fans”.

He went on: “I fear their consultation has been a charade, and the market leaders were always going to push this through. I fear this move will also lead to a market in which the mainstream dominates, and the niche, which can be tomorrow’s mainstream, is further marginalised. I fear it will further cement the dominance of the few – and that that is exactly what it is intended to do”.

Mills also cautioned against a temptation to merge album and single sales and listening data to create united ‘impact’ charts, another initiative he reckons is being led by the majors. Admitting he didn’t initially expect the album format to survive the rise of a single-track-orientated-iTunes, the Beggars chief said that while he was pleasantly surprised when the long player format remained, he now sees the music industry as being split into single track artists and album artists, with the big names transgressing both camps.

This, he reckons, returns the music industry to the pre-CD, pre-punk era, where single tracks versus the album satisfy different artists, and different audiences. And therefore merging data relating to the two formats confuses the picture, to the benefit of the big single hit pop acts. Mills noted that: “In the USA it’s already started to happen, with the Billboard consumption chart, that combines album sales, streams and track sales. In other words, it aggregates and averages out the two types of artist I’ve identified”.

He goes on: “That will mean that the big artists look and get bigger, and the more niche artists of the album world get swamped, and side-lined, starved of exposure. I have no objection to including streams in the chart, as long as – and it’s a big but – fans that are streaming albums as a whole are separately identified. So the albums chart should include album streams, and the singles chart should include track streams”.

“But including tracks with albums mixes apples with pears, and fails to chart anything meaningful other than sheer brute size. It may well be in the interests of the small number of super-consolidated major labels to make the big become bigger, and appear to be even bigger; but I believe it’s fundamentally against the interests of the rest of us, since it will reduce the oxygen available for exposure for artists whose natural format is the album. And that reduction in exposure will, I believe, lead inevitably to the decline of the album, and a curtailing of the ability of the non-pop-single artist to make a living from their art”.

And that, Mills reckons, would ultimately be bad news for all players in music. “That will hurt all labels and artists longterm, I believe, as lack of diversity will strangle innovation and music will become moribund and uninteresting, and consumer interest will erode. It will also dis-empower the artist, since the major labels will regain total control of access to market . It will create short-termism, and damage career longevity. After all that has been achieved in the last few decades in terms of artists’ control over their careers, it would be tragic if that were to be reversed by this tide”.

Addressing his retail audience, he went on: “And of course, for you physical retailers, that spells the beginning of the end for you, since you hardly sell tracks, and for you digital retailers, it probably means that a new fan is consuming a track rather than an album, which is not great for you either”.