The already troubled music industry is inflicting yet more scars on itself with bitter fighting between record labels and retailers: shops say they are starved of new albums because producers pack their big releases into a few months of the year.
As music sales decline at an alarming rate, dropping almost 14 per cent so far in 2012, HMV has led the attack, claiming music companies are getting their strategies wrong.
The company complained this weekend of "barren" release schedules at the start of the year when only a small handful of big name artists issue albums. Setting the correct release date can be a make-or-break decision for labels anxious to make a profit.
However, in just one month –September – big name artists such as Muse, The Killers, Mumford & Sons, Will.i.am, The xx and The Pet Shop Boys will all issue releases, two of them on the same day.
"For six years we've been pushing the message to record labels [to spread out their releases], but this is the worst example we've ever had," said John Hirst, HMV's music manager. Hirst argues that customers will be less inclined to buy several albums in one week.
"In the current climate, people aren't going to buy three albums in one day. You end up cannibalising sales. Probably four of these albums should do 100,000 sales [in the first week], but one of them will probably sell 100,000 and the rest will underperform," he said. Music companies now take into account many factors: the festival season, The X Factor and Christmas shoppers all need to be considered.
Retailers argue that music labels need to take a lead from the likes of Adele who releases her albums in January, a time traditionally seen as the graveyard for album sales after Christmas binge-spending.
Yet the British soul singer's albums have all sold spectacularly well. Music industry analysts point out that she garners all the attention because she has no competitors at that time of year.
The September rush of releases has left album sales in a sorry state. In the second quarter of 2012, no artist album sold more than 200,000 copies over the period. Writing in Music Week, Paul Williams, head of business analysis for the music trade magazine, said: "The result of this flawed strategy [by music companies] is a second quarter this year in which not a single artist album sold more than 200,000 copies across the three months and sales of the weekly No 1 sometimes dropped below 20,000 sales, the kind of chart-topping tally that not so long ago would not have even happened at the height of summer when the market virtually shuts down."
Last night, a spokesman for Warner Bros Records said artists just release albums when they're ready. "There's no specific marketing ploy to cash in on a busier time of the year. Albums take as long as they take."
The British Phonographic Industry declined to comment on the issue.
A packed September for album releases
The prog-rockers release their sixth album, The 2nd Law, through their own label, a subsidary of Warner Bros.
Mumford & Sons
The band release their much-anticipated second album, Babel, on the Young Turks label.
The alternative rockers bring out their fifth studio album, Battle Born, through Island Records.
The US rapper releases his #willpower album, his second, at the end of September on Polydor Records.
The London-based Mecury winners bring out Coexist, their second album on the independent Young Turks label.
Pet Shop Boys
The duo, who have been together for more than 30 years release their 11th studio album, Elysium.