Comparing weeks 46-51 of this calendar year (Nov. 18 - Dec. 23) with the same period last year, unit sales were down 10% to 54.9 million in 2012, versus the 61 million copies scanned last year. Within that, digital album sales were up 5.3% to nearly 15 million units, from 14.2 million last year, while CD sales are down 15.4% to 39 million units from 46.1 million copies in 2011.
For example, last year, Drake's "Take Care," Michael Buble's "Christmas," Nickelback's "Here And Now;" the Black Keys' "El Camino," Adele's "21," Young Jeezy's "TM 103: Hustler Ambition" and Justin Bieber's "Under The Mistletoe" produced weekly sales of over 200,000 units 12 different times during the holiday, including three weeks in which the Buble title produced sales of over 400,000 units and one week where the Drake title did over 600,000 units.
In contrast, this year albums exceeding 200,000 units in weekly sales happened just four times: One Direction's "Take Me Home," which scored 540,000 units, Taylor Swift's "Red," which topped the 200,000 unit mark twice during the holiday selling season and Rihanna's "Unapologetic," which sold 238,000 the week of Black Friday.
Another disconcerting sign: 12.7 million units scanned during the week ended Dec. 23 was the biggest album sales week for the holidays -- down from 15 million units last year. Meanwhile, the biggest week last year for digital-track sales was 38.2 million units, versus 25.5 million units this year, a 33% drop.
If it weren't for week 51, track sales would have been up 5.2% for weeks 46-50, but with week 51 thrown into the mix, track downloads are down 4.8% to 139.8 million units from 146.9 million units so far into the holiday selling season.
But some music merchandisers say business wasn't bad - if you weren't dependent on music. Newbury Comics, which has moved heavily into fashion merchandise, saw this year's holiday selling season sales up over last year thanks to its inventory shift, reports chain director of purchasing Carl Mello.
In California, Super D's CD online sales and online fulfillment business experienced double digit growth according to VP of retail sales Tim Hinsley, but BP of wholesale sales Bobby Miranda says his accounts are reporting that sales were okay. "Some were up a little, and some were down a little," he reports. "Retail saw a last minute rush."
However, "there weren't a lot of releases that made an impact," Miranda says. "There wasn't a blockbuster release that sold throughout," although he noted that Taylor Swift's "Red," kept "buzzing."
Likewise, Newbury Comic's Mello notes that "Red," was the best performing title, but when compared to Adele and Buble last year, "you have a whole lot of 200K deltas to make up."
Still, he adds that "a lot of albums that did what you hoped," he added, including Bruno Mars' ("Unorthodox Jukebox"), Alicia Keys ("Girl On Fire"), Mumford & Sons ("Babel") and Pink's ("Truth About Love"). "We also had a bunch of new Led Zeppelin ("Celebration Day" DVD) and Beatles (vinyl versions of their catalog) items to sell, which worked out well.
However, "At the end of the day, there was a lot of decent records, but with less demand."