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The Week Ahead

Graying fans prove golden for music biz

October 21, 2002|Randy Lewis

Scan the Billboard sales chart and you'll see albums by Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty in the Top 10. Keep going and you'll find others by James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Queen, Chicago, Rod Stewart, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Linda Ronstadt. On Tuesday, the arrival of Santana's new album in stores will quickly add another time-honored name to that list.

The proliferation of hit albums from veteran acts marks a dramatic turnaround from the not-so-distant past, when the surging teen-pop wave defined "veteran" as anyone old enough to drive.

It also reflects a new appreciation for the over-35 consumer by record companies that have long focused their attention on the youth crowd.

"I don't think they're throwing in the towel on younger audiences," says Tower Records Southwest region director Bob Feterl, "but the labels have realized that they'd better broaden their horizons, because anyone who puts all their eggs in that youth basket is in big trouble."

Fewer young fans are rushing out to buy CDs, not only because of the loss of steam in teen pop, but also because there's so much music on the Internet they can download for free.

No wonder sales and marketing executives suddenly see older listeners as an untapped resource.

"It falls in line with a comment I heard from a copyright attorney at a panel on the digital world and illicit copying," says Billboard charts editor Geoff Mayfield. "He made the point that there are people in the world who are too busy to download, and these are called people with jobs. The industry is starting to see some of the wisdom of that thought."

That's led to a bonanza for many established acts. Taylor, Barry Manilow, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, and country acts the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith have posted their highest single-week sales since SoundScan began measuring actual sales in 1991.

"Everyone's been so worried about how to get younger buyers into stores," Mayfield says. "They're discovering that their parents, aunts and uncles are still willing to go."

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