Is this the end of Christmas?

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The Independent Culture

Autumn used to be a bumper time for the record industry, with the big guns lined up to fill the shelves of every high street between now and Christmas. Up to 60 per cent of the industry's annual sales would be forced through a pressure cooker of frenzied activity to sell as much as could be manufactured, distributed and sold in the precious 12 weeks up to Christmas. Guessing the Christmas number one is a great British institution.

But we seem recently to have lost touch with the seasons, and not just in the record industry. Our internal barometer is collectively out of synch; our feet have lost their rhythm. For as long as anyone can remember, high street sales were always in January and June, summer came in July and August, Christmas fell in December. Now, Christmas starts in August, summer ends in May and the high street sale is now a fairly routine year-round phenomenon, like our perpetually uncertain weather.

Where does that leave the music industry? Unable to capitalise on a seasonal increase, we are beginning to see the seeds of internet invention take root, and ironically, these seeds may well drive business back to the high street. More and more big bands are using the internet to give fans a taster for the real thing. Radiohead, Coldplay and Oasis are just some of the bands who have made news headlines by making some or all of the their new album available online first.

Innovation is beginning to creep into the marketing activities of the record companies, slowly but surely. More bands using clever promotional stunts will confirm the internet as the greatest marketing platform of all time. And it may even lead to a renaissance on the high street. Bring back the record shop!

But Christmas will always be a special time for the music, driven by that fondness for predicting the number one. So I predict another completely unpredictable Christmas number one, which is another great example of our tolerance and almost indulgent relationship with music. No one knows whether it will be a major company "priority" with a few shed loads of cash spent helping us to make up our minds, or will it be another Nizlopi, out of nowhere with the deliriously infectious "JCB". Whatever, it'll still be fun guessing.

Alison Wenham is chairman and chief executive, AIM (The Association of Independent Music)

www.musicindie.com

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