According to Music Week magazine 96 singles releases and 185 album releases were made on average each week in 1992. Singles are normally released as part a strategy for breaking a new artist or promoting an album release. Singles rarely make a profit. They are a means to obtain press, radio and television exposure and trial purchases. Sales success brings the potential for increased media exposure and retailer support. There are, however, variations to this pattern. In dance music, singles remain the major format for artists. In other forms of pop music such as heavy metal, consumers are album-oriented, loyal to particular artists and not influenced by fashion. The `alternative’ music market is another example of a segment that does not always require a singles success to stimulate album sales. By contrast, classical repertoire is almost never released on singles because of the length of classical works and the general lack of demand amongst consumers. There are exceptions such as Pavarotti’s performance of Nessun Dorma which was used as the opening music for a television sports program.
The timing of album releases is normally driven mainly by the availability of new recordings from the artists on the record company’s roster but releases may be timed to take advantage of the Christmas period or some other appropriate event. Each new release will normally be discussed by the management of the company and the artist, bearing in mind contractual commitments and wider issues concerning the marketing and promotional campaign that will accompany the release. With regard to repertoire licensed in from an overseas affiliate the release date is normally determined in conjunction with the repertoire owner. A record that is to be released internationally might have a sequence of release dates in different countries so that the artist is able to make promotional appearances.
Most releases of new pop recordings are made at full-price. Records from past or back catalogue which are re-released may be priced at mid-price. By contrast, new classical albums may be released at full-price, mid-price or budget depending on factors such as the quality of the recording and the status of the artist. It is common for there to be many versions of popular classical works, with a choice of artist, orchestra and conductor offered in different price categories.
In recent years the number of titles released has increased. There has been a trend towards a greater variety in the market as record companies issue more titles in an attempt to cover a range of music genres. EMI told us that since 1987, album releases (excluding classical releases) have more than doubled. By contrast, the BPI estimates that the album market in volume terms in 1992 was much the same size as in 1986. Figure 5.3 shows the increase in the number of titles released and the decline in sales per title. The average album sold fewer than 5,000 copies in 1992, across all formats, compared with 10,000 in 1987. Singles releases have risen 10 per cent since 1986 while average sales per release fell from 15,060 in 1986 to 10,750 in 1992.
UK releases compared with other countries
The major record companies provided us with details of the releases they made in 1992 in a number of countries. The estimates suggest that more singles titles were released in the UK than in the other countries featured and more album titles were released in the UK than in the USA or Denmark but fewer than in the other countries. The titles released in the UK comprise many by internationally known artists, together with those released by local artists. The high number of releases in France and Germany reflects the larger number of local artists with a small following. We have been told that in Japan the same album may often be released twice in the same year.
Singles have only a limited life span and almost all are deleted from a record company’s current catalogue if they are not a success or as soon as they drop out of the singles charts, although the record company continues to hold the rights in the recording and it can be re-released. The sales of albums are reviewed regularly. Record companies may establish sales thresholds by which to assess whether a title should be deleted or not. Each format is reviewed separately and the deletion of one format will not necessarily result in the deletion of other formats. Items might not be deleted if some event (such as the release of another album or a tour) might lead to an increase in demand. In the case of the classical catalogue, titles may be retained if their sales are small because it is recognized that demand is likely to remain steady for a longer period of time than for a pop title.
The evidence provided by the companies suggests that 15 to 25 per cent of album titles in their catalogues are deleted in any year. The number of titles deleted is broadly matched by the number of releases made in a year.
(Another highlight from the British 1994 report on recorded music by the Ministry of Mergers and Competition)