After the Christmas turkey, buy an album

Gorillaz will release a new album on 25 December. It's not as strange as it sounds – sales of music downloads and ebooks are turning Christmas Day into one of the busiest of the year, says Rachel Clare
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The Independent Tech

With festive adverts sneaking on to our televisions from October onwards, yuletide songs being pumped out of supermarket sound systems months in advance and shops launching their Christmas departments as early as 2 August (Yes, Selfridges, we're looking at you), Christmas Day has traditionally been a welcome respite from the hard sell of "Christmas Incorporated", a chance to pop our credit cards away for a day and take a bit of a breather. It is the day when nothing happens. The streets are empty, all retailers but the hardiest of petrol station minimarts close their doors and everyone retreats inside to spend some precious time with their nearest and dearest. But once you've opened your presents, stuffed yourself full of turkey and battled with the children over a particularly testing game of charades, the day can get a little, (dare I say it without renouncing my stocking rights for the rest of my life?) dull. Years ago the answer to the Christmas Day anticlimax was a spot more port and the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special, but recently more and more people are choosing their computers, rather than the TV, for post-turkey entertainment.

It may come as something of a surprise to learn that Christmas Day is one of the biggest online retail days of the year. With high street shops out of the running, our insatiable appetite for shopping is focused entirely on the internet. According to online data analysts, Experian Hitwise, 25 December 2009 was by far the biggest day of the year in terms of customer visits to the UK iTunes webstore, a massive 800 per cent increase on the day before, as everyone tries out their new iPhones, iPods and iPads. The sale of mobile applications skyrockets alongside that of downloadable video games and, for the first time last year, Amazon reported the sale of eBooks on Christmas Day exceeded that of their physical counterparts due, in part, to the burgeoning popularity of their electronic reading device, the Kindle. We seem to be a nation with an unfailing appetite for click and buy, with an apparent inability to stop, even for one day.

With this upswing in Christmas Day shopping trends, it comes as no surprise to learn that businesses are catching on and are starting to use this captive festive online market to their advantage. We have seen something of a sea change in attitude to what used to be a 24-hour retail wilderness, and the music industry are leading the way. In 2008, George Michael released his festive track "December Song" on Christmas Day and this year Colchester's prodigal son, Damon Albarn, is continuing his penchant for forward thinking by releasing a full-length free download album from his band, Gorillaz, on 25 December. What would have been considered commercial suicide 10 years ago is now a very shrewd move indeed. Albarn is no fool and has recognised the potential of the Christmas Day afternoon lull where itchy mouse fingers are raring to get clicking. With no other new releases to compete with and an audience of customers desperate to fill their iPads with content, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. It wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility to see Christmas Day fast becoming the most important album release date of the year, if these trends continue, with the hard push focusing on album sales on the 25th, rather than on a Christmas No 1 single.

Nintendo got in on the act last year by releasing a number of downloadable video games on 25 December for all the new DSi and Wii owners and retail giants such as Argos and John Lewis have been known to start their sales on Christmas Day. However, it's not just shopping that sees the benefit of our apparent inability to stay logged off for longer than a few hours. Social networking sites see significant rises in user figures on Christmas Day as we send out festive cheer to friends and families across the globe. In the US in 2009, Facebook was the most visited website on 25 December and Twitter saw an increase of users as Twitterers spread yuletide joy across the Internet. Celebrity Twitterati, such as Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga and Peaches Geldof, gushed festive good will all over Twitter on Christmas Day, and their followers followed suit. YouTube regularly sees an annual increase in visitors on Christmas Day, to such an extent that even the Royal Household were forced to acknowledge the popularity and global reach of the video hosting website by broadcasting the Queen's Speech on the site for the first time in 2007.

With Facebook and Twitter applications available on mobiles phones it is, of course, possible to both tweet and execute a tricky turkey carving manoeuvre at the same time, so it may not be as depressing as it sounds. People can continue to interact with each other face to face, but also download music, play Angry Birds or place a bid on eBay. What is slightly more surprising, however, is the rise in other online trends on Christmas Day. Online casino, 32Red, reported an increase in users on 25 December in 2009 and is predicting a further rise this year, blaming bad TV scheduling for people looking elsewhere for entertainment. And if gambling on Christmas Day isn't your thing, how about filing your tax return instead? Last year the BBC reported that 620 people in the UK filed their tax returns online on Christmas Day, a full month ahead of deadline, presumably either because they couldn't bear to watch the EastEnders Christmas special, had fallen out with granny, or simply because they can.

Because of the internet, Christmas day is no longer the day the country closes. As physical shop doors shut, virtual ones are flung open, tempting the nation with bargain sales, free downloads and, erm, accurate tax bills. We love to talk online to our friends and family far and wide, tweet to all and sundry about our Christmas socks and watch films on our laptops. Whether this could bring about the death of the traditional family Christmas is yet to be seen, but what is certain is that the days of the typical Christmas Day stasis are well and truly numbered, and the day for purchasing music and books has dawned.