EMI - desperate for good news - have issued a press release trumpeting the Beatles back catalogue sales:
More than 2.25m albums sold in first five days in North America, UK, Japan
That sounds great, right? Two and a quarter million albums? And, yes, it's pretty good.
But that is over fourteen albums and two box sets, which makes for an average of 142,000 per title, in three territories. Which doesn't sound quite so great for such a heavily-pushed campaign. You wonder if EMI might have been better off staggering the releases instead of having one mega-launch.
US: During the first five days of release, consumers purchased more than one million copies of re-mastered Beatles titles, and the individual albums and boxed sets debuted strongly across multiple Billboard charts.
A million copies isn't bad - it's going to help the EMI bottom line no end. But if Jesus had had such a heavily-trailed second coming and could only fill a million seats, you'd be hearing some serious muttering about if the country was really that interested. Even U2 managed to sell half a million or so copies of No Line On The Horizon in the first week in the US.
[UK]: A further 84,000 CDs were sold last week, bringing their total sales of the re-masters to over 354,000 in 11 days and their total UK sales this decade to 6,755,000.
So in the first full week of sales, there was an average of less than one thousand copies per title per day selling. Nice for back catalogue, but - again - disappointing for something that had special displays built in Tesco stores away from the music department.
And if you do the maths - (354,000/6,755,000) * 100 - it works out that the re-releases have only accounted for about five per cent of this decade's Beatles sales. Again, five per cent in a couple of weeks isn't rotten, but it's not especially starting - the implication is that whole marketing blitz hasn't really driven sales much higher than the band have managed in the last nine and a half years without all that effort.
And there was an interesting statistic in yesterday's Guardian which throws a bit of a shadow over these numbers. Talking about Friends, the paper reported:
Last year, 256,000 copies of the complete 10-season boxset were sold in the UK
It's not quite a straight comparison, but without massive promotion, a single box set of a programme that went off the air years ago managed a roughly similar sale in a year to The Beatles' heavily-trailed entire catalogue managed in its first week. Both good business, but it suggests that episode where Chandler goes "oh my god" is a more efficient back catalogue performer than Helter Skelter.
Nobody would argue that the Beatles week resulted in a damp squib - there's enough eye-catching headlines to pepper a press release, and it's generated tonnes of coverage for the band which will help drive sales and keep the mythos churning. But looked at hard, the numbers support the impression that Beatles week didn't quite end with the orgy of consumption the campaign seemed to be building to.