The second half of 2002 saw a general increase in sales, with a marked strengthening of Norwegian artists positions on the sales charts. This positive trend seems not to have been carried on into 2003. January saw a general drop in sales of 15% and a two per cent decline in sales of Norwegian records. The February sales figures from the Association of Norwegian Record Distributors shows a total decline in sales of phonograms amounting to 11% in volume and 17% in value compared to the same period in 2002. Album sales are down 8% in volume and 16% value while singles sales are down 30% in volume and 16% in value.
In stark contrast to the strong Norwegian record sales last autumn, the February statistics show a drop of 21% for the sales of Norwegian phonograms. The Norwegian artists stake of the market is now down to 14%. Sales of full-price albums are down while low- and mid-price albums increase.
The gloomy statistics are a contrast to the positive mood prevailing on the Norwegian music scene. A quick look at the national album charts, Topp 40 (the “VG-List”), clearly show a strong Norwegian presence at the top ten. On top we find Betine Zetliz and her acclaimed third album Sweet Injections which debuted at no. 1 and has maintained its strong position for four weeks. On the next spot we find St. Thomas which debuts on the charts with his third album Hey Harmony (which will be released in Europe through City Slang in April). For the fourth week in a row, Bergen trio Ephemera maintains a top five position with their acclaimed Air album. The Grammy and Alarm-prize winning trio released their latest album on their own label, Ephemera Records. Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band occupy the fifth spot on the Norwegian album charts with their A Special Album. This is another trio from Bergen, and their album will soon see world-wide release through US label Emperor Norton. Other artists maintaining strong positions on the sales charts include major acts such as Kaizer’s Orchestra (no. 13), newcomers like Askil Holm (no. 20) and Maria Arredondo (no. 6) as well as some of last year’s best selling releases including Bjørn Eidsvåg’s Tålt (no. 16 – 22 consecutive weeks on the album charts) and Madrugada’s Grit (no. 38 – 22 weeks on the charts).
Amid concerns for the decline in sales, the general prevailing mood within the record industry is still positive. Few major releases were launched during January and early February, with the majority of the possible top-sellers being released late February and throughout March, thus not affecting last month’s sales figures. Another factor contributes to the slump in sales: many distributors and wholesale dealers report that many titles shipped out during December’s Christmas sales are now returned. In addition to this, few major international titles were launched last month.
All in all, the Norwegian record industry seems to be coming out of the “lull before the storm” mood and into the frenzy of spring’s activities. Norwegian artists are still given very high priority in national media and the record-buying public’s response is much more welcoming compared the last couple of years. The notion that Norwegian releases are inferior to foreign records seems to be a sentiment of a distant past. Record buyers and concert audiences are now showing a loyalty to and trust in Norwegian artists that would have been utopian a short time ago. Gradually, more and more Norwegian releases are sold and the attendance at Norwegian bands concerts is growing fast. Last month saw a unique sales approach from the country’s most influential and fastest growing chain of record stores – Platekompaniet. To support a Norwegian music scene that Platekompaniet sees as a wildly vibrant and growing market, the company decided to clear its shelves for foreign records and display and sell only Norwegian records during February. Some might perceive this as an act of nationalistic protectionism, but for the move was well received by the record-buying public at not least by the artists themselves.
Given initiatives such as Platekompaniets Norwegian-records-only stunt, strong upcoming albums from among others Turbonegro, hectic domestic touring by the nation’s top acts and performers as well as a festival season packed with Norwegian bands, the negative trend in 2003’s two first months could well be reversed. Optimism is prevailing and everybody’s looking forward to what is quite literally brighter times ahead.
Market shares February 2003:
EMI Recorded Music: 29,4%
Master Music/Naxos: 2,0%
Bonnier Amigo: 1,6%
Kirkelig Kulturverksted: 0,5%
Bare Bra Musikk: 0,4%