U.S. retailers are preparing for what will likely be the biggest music sales week of the year so far thanks to the release of Ed Sheeran's new album ÷ (Divide) today (Friday, March 3). "It should be absolutely massive," says Carl Mello, Director of Entertainment Product Merchandising at Newbury Comics, an independent retail chain with 26 stores in the US.
With the song Shape Of You riding atop Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart, retailers expect the new album to be No.1 in the Top 200 Albums chart by the end of next week. "He is definitely in the upper bracket [of artists] who appeal to wide demographics, so we expect the album to do well physically as well as digitally," says Steve Harkins, VP and general manager of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based wholesaler Baker & Taylor, which distributes books, video and music products to libraries, institutions and retailers.
James Donio, President of the Music Business Association (Music Biz), which regroups physical and digital retailers, says Ed Sheeran’s ÷ has "the unique potential to challenge or break some album release records. His previous releases have performed strongly at physical retail, and we have every reason to believe history will repeat itself."
For Donio, Sheeran is "in a remarkable position to demonstrate the power of streaming," based on the performances of both Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill that have smashed One Direction’s record for most Spotify song streams. "We expect that ÷ will join Drake’s Views as a pioneering album for a new era of blockbusters powered by not only physical and digital sales but also online access models.”
Retailers who spoke to Music Week are especially buoyant about the timing of the release. "It is a great thing for retail every time there is a release from an artist the calibre of Ed Sheeran in the first quarter," enthuses Harkins. "Usually, labels and artists have the desire to be out in the fourth quarter for obvious reasons, because there is usually a bigger traffic in store, but we see huge benefits to the release of albums of this magnitude at this time of the year. There is no competition and consumers are hungry for something new. For the past two months, we've had mostly carry-overs from last year and not many key releases. This generates excitement."
"This is really smart," concurs Dilyn Radakovitz, the buyer/owner of Dimple Records, an independent music, movie, and video game store with six locations in the Sacramento, California area. "So many big artists put their album out late in the year, to a point that it is very difficult for us to do a good job when everything is coming at once. When something big is coming out like this in the first quarter, we have time and it can be really good [for sales]. It's a very clever move."
The album, which comes in three formats, regular CD, deluxe version and vinyl, is expected to sell significantly in vinyl, based on previous sales. Dimple's Radakovitz says X sold about 15% in vinyl in her stores. "Vinyl did well," she says. "At retail you are going to see CD and vinyl sell well," says Harkins. "There's dynamics in favour of buying vinyl, especially for us because we service the college market."
Sheeran reaches demographics that are quite similar to Adele's according to Newbury's Mello. This wide appeal could help build sustainable sales over a long period of time. "He's got the same sort of public Adele reaches, though skewing slightly younger," says Mello. "But, like Adele, he sells to people who may only 'buy' one album a year."
Mello is confident that the album will have a long shelve life and should still be alive and kicking by the end of the year. "If the last two records are anything to go by, yes it will have a long shelf life," says Mello. "Long shelf lives are a real rarity these days, and he's one of only a handful of artists whose records sell well over time."
Will it have the potential to reach the same height as Adele's 25? "He is a terrific artist, but Adele is an anomaly in this day and age, and we have not seem an album like hers in the past 20 years," says Baker & Taylor's Harkins. "Ed Sheeran has lasting appeal but Adele's dynamic is different."