'It could be phenomenal': Top execs on whether National Album Day can boost sales as well as awareness

National Album Day

National Album Day certainly seems to be generating plenty of interest ahead of its debut event on Saturday (October 13) – not least because of Music Week’s special albums issue, starring NAD ambassador Jess Glynne on the cover.

That excitement has been building since Music Week first broke the news that the event was coming back in July.

But what should the music industry’s expectations be of the event? Cherry Red chairman Iain McNay – one of the people who came up with the concept – has already told Music Week that the event could “grow and grow”.

And, with actual sales – as opposed to streams – of albums falling to the extent that they now only represent around 30% of the market, anything that boosts the format’s profile will be seized upon by an industry that still has the long-player at the heart of most campaigns.

National Album Day itself, run by ERA and the BPI, makes few such claims, preferring to describe the event as a “celebration” of the format. But then Record Store Day also started out amidst similarly vague aspirations in 2008 before transforming itself into the vinyl-shifting, independent shop-saving behemoth we know today.

There are few, if any, special releases for this one but ERA’s highly-rated rising star Megan Page is at the helm of both events. And, while NAD is platform agnostic – streaming platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify are also involved – physical retail would love another annual event that gets people into shops. Especially now that the once-reliable Mercury Prize boost seems to have dissipated to other areas.

“The end game is to celebrate the album as a format,” insisted BPI CEO Geoff Taylor. “It’s given so much to the music industry but also to fans as a way of experiencing music. We truly believe it is special in the way it captures the vision of an artist at a particular point in time. If you look at great artists who’ve released albums throughout their careers, you can really see the evolution of their artistic vision over time through an album.

“The album may change and it may be that it isn’t a fixed concept or something necessarily released as a package of tracks all in one go,” he added. “The album may become more serialised in a way, but that doesn’t mean that – as a overall conceptual body of work – it doesn’t continue to do its job of communicating with the fan. We want to celebrate that format and what it stands for and get people engaged in a conversation around the album and how it’s developing.”

Conversations, however, don’t tend to pay the bills. So, for anyone in the biz hoping for a little more sales action, Music Week quizzed the executives on the unit-shifting frontline as to their expectations of the inaugural event…

“Our expectations right now are modest,” said David Hawkes, managing director of Universal Music UK’s commercial division. “We’re fully supportive of the initiative. It’s important to refocus attention on the album; the advent of iTunes and now streaming has enabled the consumer to consume track-by-track, but albums are still very important for a number of Universal artists.

“We thank the retailers for getting behind it,” he added. “If we look back at Record Store Day’s performance in the first year, it’s just grown and grown year-on-year. There’ll be some learnings from this year, we need to take the positives and improve on National Album Day year-on-year and make it something that, in time, is as successful as Record Store Day, which is clearly a massive success for the indie sector.

“Generally, the market benefits from the focus. We need to take the best bits from one year to the next and bring the BBC and other partners along for the ride. We need that promotional outlet as well as the retail support.”

Sony Music UK’s VP of market planning & media, Charles Wood, took a cautious approach, saying: “It’s definitely an awareness thing. Let’s wait and see how the first year goes.” But over at Warner Music UK, SVP, commercial, Derek Allen struck a more optimistic note.

“If it’s half as successful as Record Store Day then it could be phenomenal,” he declared. “I think it could boost sales. It depends how the trade embraces it – and it seems like all the commercial partners are backing it to various degrees, so it feels like there is an opportunity. Hopefully it has a big impact on the performance in the final quarter of the year. We’re fully supportive of it and hope that it becomes a regular in the music calendar and grows and grows as Record Store Day has.”

Over to you, the general public… 

* For Music Week’s full National Album Day coverage, see this week’s print edition or click here, here and here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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