Will The Beast From The East take a bite out of physical music retail?

Will The Beast From The East take a bite out of physical music retail?

The music business may have been enjoying a couple of snow days this week as the weather system known to some as ‘The Beast From The East’ (and to sensible people as ‘a bit of snow’) swept in.

But spare a thought for the physical music business, which has spent the week battling against major transport disruption for deliveries and falling footfall when it comes to sales.

The bad weather couldn’t have come at a worse time for retailers. After all, this is the week after the BRIT Awards, traditionally a great time to turn albums from hits into megahits and to take breakthrough artists into the heart of the mainstream.

That would normally involve soaring sales for BRITs hits. And, while Official Charts Company data shows the likes of Dua Lipa and Stormzy’s albums well up week-on-week, the surge has decidedly eased off towards the latter part of the week, while physical sales look light across the board. That’s despite it also being the start of the Mother’s Day gifting season, another usually physical-heavy sales opportunity.

Of course, these days, physical sales are a much smaller part of the overall retail mix, and it’ll take more than The Beast From The East to take down Spotify. But nonetheless, things like bad weather can still hit hard – sources at major labels told Music Week that the pre-Christmas snow took a chunk out of Q4 sales that simply never came back.


ERA reports “lower footfall” and sales being affected “pretty much across the board”


Fortunately, the distribution network seems to be holding up OK, despite difficulties getting staff to work (some usually office-bound execs have been spotted in hi-vis jackets working the warehouse floor to make up for staff shortages). There are obvious problems reaching the parts of Scotland and Wales that have been subject to red weather warnings, but Proper and Cinram Novum both say everything has gone out the door as planned and the vast majority of deliveries are getting through.

At High Street retail itself, however, it's been a tough week. ERA reports “lower footfall” and sales being affected “pretty much across the board”.

Sources indicate physical sales of some of the albums heading for a Top 10 slot today stalled on Wednesday, just as the Beast bit hard and, while downloads and streaming are taking up some of that slack, the concern would be as to whether people will still have that album purchase on their mind when the weather improves and they finally make it to the shops.

It’s been a bad week for the High Street in general, with both Maplin and Toys ‘R’ Us going into administration. Music retail has turned itself round impressively in recent years but it won’t want too many potentially big weeks to be hit like this.

Interestingly, though, some suggest the wider biz no longer fears weeks like this as it once did. Bad weather, you see, at least drives people indoors to shop online, even as bricks-and-mortar stores suffer. But warm, sunny weather sends people to pubs and parks and both online and real world shops take the hit.

Cold comfort for those still in the grip of the Beast, no doubt. But proof that physical retail has weathered worse storms in the past, and will do so again.

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