Spears on track to exceed 1st-week sales expectations

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Things are looking up for Britney Spears -- at least on the retail front.

Britney Spears performs at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards in Las Vegas in this September 9, 2007. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

In what could signal a reversal of fortune, the pop singer’s “Blackout” album, which bowed October 30 via Jive, is living up to expectations and then some.

Based on first-day sales, “Blackout” is on track to sell between 325,000 and 350,000 units in its first week, estimate sales and distribution executives at three major labels whose responsibilities include making such projections. That’s better than the 300,000 units that sales executives at Zomba Records -- the Sony BMG label-group parent to Jive Records -- projected when they took orders for the album from retailers in October.

Spears’ last studio album, “In the Zone,” released in 2003, scanned 2.96 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

At Best Buy, senior entertainment officer Gary Arnold said, “Britney is doing better than we thought. Her first-day sales are at about 135 percent of our forecast,” which means 35 percent higher than expected.

Newbury Comics head of purchasing Carl Mello, meanwhile, said her album is doing “slightly better than I expected. I think the notoriety is helping sales because it is creating awareness about the album. The only instance I can think of when notoriety hurt is (with) Michael Jackson, but has Britney been as devilish as Michael?”

The question for Britney, he said, is whether sales hold up.

Zomba senior vice president of sales Bob Anderson said that, based on first-day sales, the album may outperform the label’s first-week expectations. What’s more, first-week sales might have been even better had the label not moved the release date up from November 13 to thwart bootleggers and digital pirates. That date change caused Spears to miss out on a couple of major Sunday circulars, Anderson said.

The label has revised its sales projection upward to 330,000-350,000 units. “We have seen a major turn of the tide,” Anderson said. “The focus is off her personal life and on the music, and that’s where it should be.”

Sentiment within the music industry indeed seems to be swinging that way.

“All of her agita, issues and notoriety have some executives thinking that people are feeling sorry for her and that she is going to have a big record,” one senior executive at a competing label said.

Trans World divisional merchandise manager for music Jerry Kamiler said he expected the album to do well, and that based on first-day sales, it is. “The single, ‘Gimme More,’ is performing extremely well; she still has a fan base and they say the quality of the music is good; and she is getting a tremendous amount of press, not all of it good.” All of that, he said, could add up to a big record.

Between Spears’ album and the Backstreet Boys’ “Unbreakable” album, which also came out October 30, “I feel like I am in a time warp,” Kamiler said.

“But if this was 10 years ago,” he added, “Jive would be looking to sell a million units apiece in the first week.”