BRITNEY SPEARS’ NEW album, Glory, came out this week. If you’re a fan, you bought it online; if you’re a superfan, you tracked down the vinyl edition. But either way, you didn’t do it on Tuesday, like you did just about every other year of your music-listening life. That’s because last July, New Music Friday became the industry standard.
Ostensibly, the move to Friday was to help unite the global music industry and cut down on piracy, boosting sales for everyone. In that intervening year, however, we’ve seen more than one move that would seem to cut down on sales potential, whether streaming platforms handing out exclusivity deals or artists holding their albums back from streaming altogether. A year later, has it helped? Well….kind of.
Up until last year, international releases were scattered throughout the week: an album would be released in the United Kingdom on Monday, Japan on Wednesday, and Germany and Australia on Friday. (The Tuesday release in the US, which shifted from Monday in 1989, was largely the result of logistics: crates of records, cassettes and CDs could ship over the weekend, arrive on Monday, and be on the shelf the next morning, rather than trickling into stores over the course of a Monday.)
As digital formats became the default way people purchased—or stole—music, staggered release dates turned from inconvenience to threat. “Especially on major releases, if you released them earlier in Germany and Australia, you’d have all kind of leakage and non-monetized uses,” says Lars Murray, a former executive at Columbia Records who in 2014 became vice president of industry relations at Pandora.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a London-based trade association, understood that it needed to optimize the way labels released online content. They hoped that choosing a single day of release worldwide would help curb the piracy issue. So last July, the IFPI unified the day of release for all 1,300 of its member labels based in 60 countries—since then, almost all new releases have come out on Friday worldwide.
The choice for a Friday release date also made sense for the same reason movies come out that day; consumers are likely more willing to buy music on weekends. Meanwhile, digital revenue had equaled physical revenue worldwide in 2014; add to that the RIAA’s decision earlier this year to allow streams to count toward a record’s sales status, and it seemed on paper that the Friday shift would swing things upward for an industry that had seen what IFPI chief executive Frances Moore had called “two decades of almost uninterrupted decline.”
But did it? It’s hard to say. Dr. David Price, IFPI’s director of insight and analysis, says that the industry’s granular day-by-day sales data is “not as good as we want it to be.” However, the organization announced in April that streaming now accounts for 19 percent of all music revenue worldwide, and is close to overtaking downloads as the dominant way people consume music digitally.
A midyear report from music industry analysts BuzzAngle, which charts the U.S. industries year-over-year numbers, echoes that reading. Streams are up more than 107 percent over 2015’s first half, but album sales are down 14. Even so, that streaming growth raised “Total Industry Consumption” by 6.5 percent. In other words, as everyone in the music world already understood, the future of the industry is streaming, plain and simple.
Whether that has anything to do with Friday releases is another story. According to Murray says that some pop artists do see big Pandora boosts on weekends and holidays—in particular, the July 4 weekend this year saw a big spike in Jimmy Buffett music. But for other genres, the Friday release is much less beneficial. “It’s funny, a lot of artists follow a sort of standard internet usage, where they peak on Thursdays and then things fall off on the weekend,” he says.
For those signed to smaller labels, New Music Friday might actually be a disservice. Tuesday releases, says Matador Records founder Chris Lombardi, allowed a few days for music sites to cover the smaller artists’ offerings before the weekend rush. Now, he says, “it clogs media. You’re gonna be competing with stuff with a massive campaign behind it: lots of advertising, lots of editorial real estate on blogs and newspapers and magazines.”
But even Lombardi agrees that a unified release day is key in today’s market. Like everyone in the industry today, his indie label is mainly powered by streaming revenue. “The CD continues to decline significantly, vinyl seems to be ticking up a little bit still. And streaming has made up for all of that, and then some,” he says. He just wishes that day was earlier in the week.
That’s unlikely: streaming services seem to have bought in to Fridays, as has the online conversation about music. The IFPI’s Price points to the fact that Spotify and Apple Music now release new music playlists every Friday—and is even more enthusiastic about the internet’s grassroots embrace of the move. “I look on Reddit and we see people posting on Friday now, ‘Here’s the music you should be listening to,’” Price said. “It’s sort of synced into the popular consciousness.”
Switching the day of release might not actually sell more records—but, if nothing else, it signals a change of attitude for an industry famously wary of technology’s influence on the bottom-line. As streaming becomes increasingly central for the industry, that may be the change that matters.