After more than a decade of reeling from low CD sales, the record business is finally heading into a holiday shopping season with a little confidence. Taylor Swift's Red sold more than 1.2 million copies in its debut week – the biggest single-week sales for an album since Eminem's The Eminem Show in 2002 – and Mumford and Sons had their own moment earlier this fall, when they sold 600,000 copies of their second LP, Babel, in its first week. "Both of those will go on – they're not going to die," says Ish Cuebas, vice president of marketing for music for record chain Trans World Entertainment. "It's good to have a strong base."
Aside from Swift, Adele may be the only pop star who can still sell more than a million albums in a week, and the British singer is currently focusing on her new baby, not a follow-up to her smash 21. But the release schedule for the rest of 2012 is full of superstars certain to pull in hundreds of thousands of sales in their early weeks – including Rihanna's Unapologetic (due out November 19th), Christina Aguilera's Lotus (November 13th), Pitbull's Global Warming (November 19th), Ke$ha's Warrior (December 4th), Alicia Keys' Girl On Fire (December 4th) and One Direction's Take Me Home (November 13th). "It's definitely a strong season," says Tom Corson, president of RCA Records, home of Pink, Pitbull, Christina Aguilera and Ke$ha. "The question is, will it sustain below the Top Ten?"
For most of September and October, fall releases sold better than they had in the corresponding weeks last year. But album sales for theyear overall are down by 4 percent compared to 2011, according to Nielsen Soundscan. And splashy debuts have had a disturbing habit of plummeting down the charts this year: It happened to Madonna and Rick Ross, and even Mumford and Sons have dropped in sales every week since their big debut.
Daniel Glass, president and founder of Mumford's label, Glassnote Entertainment Group, isn't concerned. The band has two high-profile shows at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl this month, and they're planning to release more singles next spring and tour in 2013. "That's exactly how it's going to be. You'll see a spike," Glass says. "Word of mouth is great. The job for us is to expand the fan base and let people know the record's out."
The most anticipated fall releases are in pop, R&B and hip-hop, in part because most big country albums (Swift, Jason Aldean) have already dropped and rock albums aren't selling the way they used to (Aerosmith and Green Day are among the remaining superstar names). One concern is that several of the biggest upcoming releases, such as Rihanna and Pitbull, are from artists known recently for smash singles rather than albums.
One open question: Will Hurricane Sandy's devastation of the East Coast have an impact on sales? Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill had the misfortune of putting out his major-label debut, Dreams & Nightmares, just as the storm was leaving destruction in its wake, and Trans World's Cuebas believes the weather likely dissuaded hometown fans from going to stores in that crucial first week. "You have entire communities that are really disabled by this," says Cuebas. "But our hope and expectation is everybody bounces back. It's a very resilient group of people who live in these places."