Does Q4 Even Matter Anymore?

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Black Friday is one of my favorite days of the year. It is notorious for being an amalgamation of American materialism; an entire self-proclaimed holiday made to focus on buying as many consumer products as possible in one day. While it’s true that it is a ridiculous day because of that, I love it because I love the energy people bring to retail stores and I love working it as well. I work seasonally at Best Buy, and during Black Friday, our store is bursting at the seams with customers looking for new phones, TVs, video games, speakers, computers, monitors, and even kitchen appliances to name a few. However, there is one category of products that I did not list that used to be one of the biggest items on everyone’s Christmas list. That product is music. What gives?

The fourth quarter (Q4), or the last three months of the year, is the music industry’s baby. Well, it used to be. The holiday season is a perfect time for both artists and the industry to release and promote new music for consumers to buy for themselves, friends, and family. However, since the large majority of music listeners choose to listen to music through a digital streaming service, there is no need for a physical copy of your favorite new album.

The numbers speak for themselves. In February, Apple Music had 28 million paid subscribers in the United States, and Spotify had 26 million, with these numbers increasing by the day. These are just paid subscribers, but those numbers do not even account for free users of the prospective streaming services. These music streaming users do not need to buy new music, for every release they could ever dream about is already on Apple Music or Spotify. The Q4 holiday season offers nothing that they could get with their streaming subscription.

Regarding physical media, CDs are basically outdated out of our American music culture. Most cars do not even have CD players anymore, and instead, have Bluetooth capabilities for your streaming service of choice or even XM radio. There is a resurgence of vinyl records, but the medium is still limited to usage in someone’s personal spaces. If you find a car that supports vinyl records, let me know.

At Best Buy we just let go of our CDs. We still carry vinyl, but when it comes to physical music media, that’s all we got. In my hometown, we used to have a store called “Coconuts” which was exclusively a CD store. It was quickly ousted by the early 2010s, and it really pained me to see it go.

Music streaming is nothing new in the industry. Streaming and online services for music have been around since the early 2000s, with the first mainstream pioneer being iTunes. Jim Urie, one of the heads of Universal Music Group Distribution (this industry giant includes artists such as Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Kanye West, and Queen) has stated that “Q4 has been losing share since Apple introduced iTunes in 2001.”

While Black Friday is still a day where consumerism runs rampant, the same cannot be said about music. There are still things such as Apple and Spotify gift cards, but the overall trend is that music is no longer a seasonal attraction, a Q4 attraction, like it, once was. “The boost in sales these days comes from kids getting new devices and filling them with apps,'' Urie said. As much as I love my Spotify Student premium subscription (it comes with Hulu too) I still go out of my way to look for CDs from my favorite artists. I collect vinyl too, but I collect CDs primarily because they are cheap, take up way less space than vinyl, and they sound great. My wish is that CDs make a comeback in today’s society of streaming music and that the industry will come full circle for physical media.