April 21, 2006

Mass takes new meaning at Easter

By Geoff Mayfield

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - As Rascal Flatts fends off a
challenge by Toby Keith on the Billboard 200, we find that more
than any Easter of this decade, the bunny trail is lined with
Wal-Mart and Target stores.

Although overall album sales are down 4 percent from Easter
week 2005, which ended March 27, mass merchants' Easter numbers
hop ahead this year, in raw sales (5.6 million, up 6.5 percent)
and market share (47 percent, compared with 43 percent last

Excluding Christmas shopping seasons, you have to go back
to February 2004 to find the last time big-box stores sold more
albums. In that ideal stanza when the Grammy Awards telecast
and the arrival of Norah Jones' anticipated "Feels Like Home"
coincided with Valentine's Day shopping, mass merchants rang
6.4 million units, 37 percent of the week's take.

The sector held 40 percent of albums sold in the Easter
weeks of 2004 and 2003, 38 percent for that holiday period in
2002 and 32 percent in the Easters of 2001 and 2000.

This year, Easter traffic helps Rascal Flatts' "Me and My
Gang" soften the severe second-week erosion that usually
follows a blockbuster opener (345,000 copies, down 52 percent).
The holiday also builds a faster start for Keith's "White Trash
With Money" -- 330,000 copies -- than the 283,000 he clocked
when his last album, "Honkytonk University," arrived in May

Those two sets, and the next two on the Billboard 200 --
""Now 21" (293,000, down 12 percent) and the "High School
Musical" soundtrack (256,000, up 41 percent) further illustrate
mass merchants' enhanced Easter clout. The sector accounts for
at least 79 percent of current sales in each of the top four

This also marks the first time since Billboard began using
SoundScan data in May 1991 that a country album has been No. 1
during Easter week.

Easter's nomadic nature on the calendar plays havoc with
same-week sales comparisons. The spike over the comparative
2005 week, for example, puts Easter 2006 against a non-holiday

More important, Peter Cottontail's arrival helps fill the
hole that was dug in the week ending March 26, which stood
against last year's Easter romp. In that frame, the
year-to-date gap in album sales grew from 2.9 percent to 3.8

With this year's Easter in the bank, the gap narrows to 0.8
percent. Considering there have been only four weeks in 2006
when album sales have beaten those of the same 2005 frames, the
tiny gap feels like a win.