Back in 2000, 'N Sync broke the all-time first-week sales record by moving 2.4 million copies of No Strings Attached. Six years later, the group's former lead, Justin Timberlake, couldn't even come close: His FutureSex/LoveSounds bowed with 684,000 in sales (legal downloads included). Heavily hyped recent releases from Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, and Fergie also fell short. In fact, to find the last million-topping debut, you have to go all the way back to 50 Cent's The Massacre in March 2005. The trend raises a disturbing question for music labels: Is the seven-figure debut gone for good?
Perhaps not for good but definitely for the moment. The two-pronged attack from file sharing and CD burning has led to five straight years of declining album sales, and this slump makes it that much harder to reach the exclusive million-plus mark. ''The kinds of records that have the potential to sell seven figures in a week are very youth-oriented and the huge portion of iPod users, file sharers, and CD burners are kids,'' explains Tom Corson, executive VP for J/Arista Records. Mike Dreese, CEO of New England music chain Newbury Comics, places the blame elsewhere: ''I think everyone would say that there's a bit of a content problem right now.... Name five new, interesting, exciting acts this year. I can't.'' (We'll leave this alone. Okay, we won't: There isn't a whole lot you can say about a year in which Rascal Flatts has the best one-week sales number 722,000 for Me and My Gang in April.)
No one seems likely to break this barrier soon. Even upcoming discs from big sellers Jay-Z, The Game, and Eminem may not succeed, since they don't offer the sweet trifecta of massive anticipation, broad heartland appeal, and huge television exposure that creates a CD-buying frenzy. That means that all signs point to the apocalypse excuse us, the sequel to High School Musical, expected in 2007 as the next seven-figure debut.