"Chinese Democracy" shows limits of retail exclusives

Fri Dec 12, 2008 7:47pm EST
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By Ed Christman

NEW YORK (Billboard) - When Wal-Mart sold 784,000 copies of AC/DC's "Black Ice" during the album's first week in stores, many label executives believed that more superstars would release albums exclusively through big-box retailers.

And when Best Buy experienced disappointing sales of Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy," some of those same executives thought, well, maybe not.

"Chinese Democracy" (Interscope), the rock act's first album of all-new material in 17 years, sold 261,000 units in its first week of availability, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That included sales at Best Buy, exclusive digital retailer iTunes and other stores selling import versions of the album.

While first-week sales forecasts for "Chinese Democracy" ranged from 300,000 to AC/DC's first-week tally of nearly 800,000, most major-label sales prognosticators thought the album might sell between 400,000 and 500,000 units.

So how did one of the most hotly anticipated releases of recent years fall so short of expectations? Some executives suggested that the initial projections for "Chinese Democracy" were out of whack with reality, considering that Wal-Mart has 4,200 stores selling music while Best Buy only has about 950 stores.

But many others say that Best Buy simply didn't promote "Chinese Democracy" as much as Wal-Mart pushed "Black Ice." One major-label head of sales says he didn't see "anywhere near the TV for Guns as I saw for AC/DC."

And while no one expected the consumer electronics chain to duplicate Wal-Mart's store-within-a-store strategy for Guns N' Roses, about half of the executives interviewed for this story said they had a hard time finding "Democracy" at their local Best Buy.

That was certainly true for Best Buy's store in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens. After this writer walked around the store twice looking for "Chinese Democracy," as well as checking the Guns N' Roses section in the album bins, store personnel pointed out the cardboard fixture housing the album. Although it was located at the end of the center aisle, among other merchandising kiosks, shoppers waiting in the checkout line could have easily missed it.   Continued...

<p>Axel Rose, lead singer for the band Guns N' Roses, performs during a concert in Budapest in this June 1, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Karoly Arvai</p>