For the first time in 26 years, it’s a Tuesday and there are no new albums out in America. Starting this week, the record industry is shifting to a Friday release date around the globe. It’s a move intended to reflect our increasingly digital music space: by releasing albums on the same day worldwide, the thought is that there will be less international piracy happening among music fans who just can’t stand to think that some other part of the world can buy some new album a few days before them.
Of course, there are flaws with this reasoning. Most albums don’t leak just a couple days before street date — they leak months or weeks out. Many albums stream a week ahead of time, via Spotify, various editorial sites that cover music, and most notably, NPR’s First Listen program.
Furthermore, the threat of piracy from fans otherwise assumed to be law-abiding music consumers has not proven to be a satisfactory reason for physical independent record stores to have this policy enforced on them, as Flavorwire found when the global release date was first announced late this past winter. The benefit to the industry of a unified release date is certainly a retail-related one, just not necessarily related to brick-and-mortar retailers — the proprietors of which have been none too pleased about their midweek sales bump and convenient restocking schedule disappearing thanks to the Friday release date. “Friday and Saturday are your busy days anyway,” Josh Madell, co-founder of Other Music (one of lower Manhattan’s last great indie record stores), reasoned to us back in March. “Why concentrate everything at the end of the week?”
There aren’t exactly legal regulations for album release dates, as seen by the rise of the surprise digital drop favored by Beyoncé, Drake, and more. But, since 1989, the systems for releasing new albums have been built around a Tuesday schedule that became industry standard. Before that, Mondays had been the standard street date in America, but shipments would often arrive in stores midday on Monday and so a stocking blitz ensued. Shipping earlier in the week was simply too tough given Monday’s proximity to the weekend.
As Billboard points out, major label distributors called for a Tuesday shift and swiftly received the label support necessary to ensure that record stores could be on level playing fields thanks to this new leeway period. All was well and the record biz carried on, selling millions of albums every year… until it all collapsed. The music industry since then has been a series of new systems intended to circumvent piracy; the Friday global street date is simply the latest.
As we stare down the Friday street date just days ahead, there may be a twinge of sentimentality from those of us who grew up going to the record store every Tuesday and buying new albums that helped us getting through the rest of the week. But those days have been long dead for a while now. The industry has adjusted to a Friday release date over the last few months, and now so must the consumer. Here are a few shifts that music fans can expect:
— NPR First Listen streams will now premiere, for the most part, on Thursdays instead of Mondays. Just like in the Tuesday era, there will be rare exceptions to this rule. The Nina Simone tribute album currently on First Listen (and out this Friday), for example, launched yesterday, a Monday. NPR First Listen remains the industry leader for exclusive pre-release album streams, while the time frame of a week tends to be the standard. Expect other sites to follow suit with end-of-the-week streams. This means new music just in time for the weekend.
— Many Billboard charts will shift, both in terms of the tracking period and when to expect chart news each week. Previously, the tracking period for album sales started on Mondays and ended on Sundays, with charts tracking the previous week’s sales released publicly on Thursday mornings via billboard.com. Now the tracking week for charts encompassing sales and streaming (rather than radio airplay) will begin on Fridays and end on Thursdays, and all charts will be updated on billboard.com every Tuesday morning. (This shift requires a couple weeks to take effect, with Billboard detailing the modified schedule in full.)
While the length of the tracking period hasn’t changed, it’s quite possible the Billboard 200 album chart will reflect slightly higher sales numbers moving forward, since the new tracking week accounts for seven full days of potential sales, rather than six. If you’ve ever wondered why many pop stars have released their albums a day early in the US (particularly in recent years), on Mondays instead of Tuesdays, it’s because it gives them a slight sales boost in their first-week sales. No such advantage exists now, given the new tracking week.
Expect news about the week’s top albums to be released on Saturdays now, which ties closely to my next point.
— Press coverage will shift to reflect the Friday release dates. News of who’s topping the album charts will come out over the weekend instead of midweek, while readers of album reviews should expect to see the bulk of coverage shifting towards the end of the week, instead of the beginning. Weekend reading to serve weekend listening.
— Friday just became a much more coveted spot on late night talk TV for musicians promoting new albums. In general, Fridays will become the day for album celebrations, be it release shows, radio appearances, or in-store performances at record stores. As for the latter, expect fewer of those.
“The fantastic array of in-store performances associated with new releases are fairly easy to accommodate on a Tuesday, but not so on a Friday, obviously,” Marc Weinstein, founder/co-owner of California chainlet Amoeba Music, told Flavorwire earlier this year. “We may well be passing on some great opportunities for new release celebrations and live in-stores because Friday is a very challenging day to pack the store with fans, as it is such a busy day.”
— And finally, if you’re the type of person who frequents record stores as part of your weekend routine (imagine that), you may find them to be more crowded. With Tuesdays out as a release day, there’s no reason for zealous fans to make a special effort to shop midweek. Also, you may have to wait a few more days than usual for popular new albums, if your record store runs out over the weekend.
“It’s easier and cheaper to get restocks in — and manage digital customer support for glitches — during the working week than it would be over the weekend,” Nigel House, co-founder/co-owner of Rough Trade, told us earlier this year.