Stupid Question ™
Nov. 16, 2000
By John Ruch
Q: Why are new record albums always released on Tuesdays?
A: Armed with this question, I faced an industry that—the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame notwithstanding—is not known for its memory.
Hence, it’s no surprise that the best information I could get was that Tuesday has been the release date since at least the mid-1980s.
Or that the sole comment from a Recording Industry Association of America spokesperson was, “I wonder that myself all the time.”
Not that I didn’t get simple answers. In fact, I got several of them.
Corporate giant Sony Music, for example, told me that the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) was instrumental in setting Tuesday as the release day.
NARM Executive VP Jim Donio, meanwhile, told me he had no idea who picked Tuesday or when they picked it. However, he was sure it was for one reason: marketing. It was good business for consumers to know to look for new records every Tuesday, just like they look for new movies every Friday.
Donio then contradicted himself by adding, “but a lot of the public doesn’t know” that Tuesday’s the release day, and that it’s only starting to become popular, thanks to promos like “Entertainment Tonight”’s “New Record Tuesday” segments.
Would the record industry really stick with a promotional release day that is only starting to be noticed a minimum of 15 years after its inception? I don’t think so.
At least a couple things are certain. Videotapes (and DVDs) are also released on Tuesdays, in imitation of albums, and new books usually come out on Tuesday as well. Also, small, independent record companies don’t always release records on Tuesdays.
This suggests that the Tuesday set-up solves some problem peculiar to mass-marketed records—and solves it so well that other media industries have followed suit.
Sony Music seemed close to the truth when it told me that Monday was the original release day, but that Tuesday was established because records were often delivered late to stores. But why Monday? And why not just ship early?
Employees of Other Music, a New York and Boston record-store chain, said what I think are the magic words: “They just needed to pick a day.” It’s not the day that matters so much as simply choosing one, because choosing one solves a problem.
And what’s the problem? Fairness. If you don’t set a day on which an extremely popular record is released, some stores will get it in the mail earlier that other stores, giving them a competitive edge. Then your big record company might get sued. Today, Tuesday isn’t just a convention, it’s an obligation—stores aren’t allowed to sell new major-label records until Tuesday, even if they get them in the mail early.
Its use as a marketing device is only recent, exemplified by Monday-night-at-midnight sales at which record stores sell hot new albums straight out of boxes—boxes that obviously came in the mail on Monday, or earlier.