The Demise of the Major Record Labels; Now Exclusively at Wal-Mart!

Journey - Revelation Eagles - Long Road Out Of Eden

What’s this? Journey put a new record out and I wasn’t informed?

On Tuesday Wal-Mart started selling on an exclusive basis a three-disc collection by the popular 1980s band Journey called “Revelation.” The difference, however, is that there is no middleman: the album was bought directly from the band without the help of a record label. Journey went right to Wal-Mart and kept most of the money a record company would normally take as profit for the group. Last year Wal-Mart made a similar deal with the Eagles, who like Journey are represented by Front Line Management, the nation’s largest music management company.

The deals highlight the changing dynamics of the music industry as once-powerful labels decline because of the migration to digital downloads. To fill the gap, musicians are scrambling to connect with fans, and Wal-Mart is using these exclusive deals to assume a new role: hit maker.

The Eagles’ double disc, “Long Road Out of Eden,” sold 711,000 copies in its first week and three million since its release, according to Nielsen SoundScan, impressive numbers at a time when CD sales are declining. Journey sold 45,000 albums in its first three days on sale, and Irving Azoff, founder and chief executive of Front Line Management and a music industry veteran who ran MCA Records in the ’80s, predicted that it would sell more than 80,000 copies in its first week. That is probably enough to debut in the top five, and significantly more than its last album sold in total.

The idea of treating the label as a middleman that can be cut out fits Wal-Mart’s approach to cost-cutting. In the past the chain has pushed record labels to lower their wholesale prices, arguing that customers would buy more CDs if they were less expensive. []