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Sugarland is No. 1 again, but it's not all sweetness

The band's live set is exclusive to Wal-Mart, bringing criticism from

August 13, 2009|Todd Martens

Country duo Sugarland has another No. 1 album with the CD/DVD package "Live on the Inside," but in a slow sales week, the emphasis shifts to how the product was sold rather than how many copies have been purchased.

For the live follow-up to last year's "Love on the Inside," Sugarland took a page from the likes of AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Prince to go the exclusive retail route. Initial returns for Sugarland are modest, as Wal-Mart-exclusive "Live on the Inside" sold 76,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures released Wednesday.

But the Atlanta-area band drew some heat earlier this week from its local indie shop, Decatur CD. The store's owner, Warren Hudson, criticized the band on the company blog, writing to Sugarland that "by shutting the door on independent record stores, you're in effect shutting the door on your hometown."

"We're not trying to put the band in the cross hairs, by any means," Hudson said Wednesday. "I have no doubt that Wal-Mart is one of the best avenues for this band. We just happen to be in the town where the band got their start. We didn't start the band, by any means, but we supported them from Day 1."

Retail exclusives remain a controversial topic. For bands and labels, it's an instant payday, as retailers pay for the exclusivity, plus sales to the retailer are often one-way, meaning they are not returnable to the distributor. Yet the practice blocks mom-and-pop, music-specific outlets from selling the CD and limits a fan's buying options.

Additionally, the corporate partnerships often seem -- at least on the surface -- to go against rock idealism. Springsteen, for instance, told the New York Times that selling a Wal-Mart-exclusive greatest hits package was a "mistake."

Pearl Jam, for its upcoming "Backspacer," due Sept. 20, walked a careful line. The album, the band's first outside the major label system, is a Target exclusive, with qualifications. The album will continue to be available at indie shops and Apple's iTunes store -- just not at Best Buy or Wal-Mart.

Hudson points to such a solution as a workable arrangement, and chided Sugarland for not going a similar route.

Sugarland's Kristian Bush heard Hudson's complaint and responded, posting on the store's blog that he would drop by the outlet with a couple of boxes of CDs and "peel off the Wal-Mart stickers together while we catch up."

Bush made good on his blog comment, Decatur CD's Eliot Johnson said. The singer stopped by the store Wednesday afternoon, but ultimately could not leave any product because of the Wal-Mart exclusitivity.

Nevertheless, Bush dropped off an assortment of free autographed Sugarland items, met with a few fans and bought some CDs.

"Live on the Inside" isn't on par with Sugarland's recent sales numbers, but that likely has more to do with the lack of new studio material than the album's availability at retail. About a year ago, the act's "Love on the Inside" debuted at No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts after it sold 314,000 copies in its first week.

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todd.martens@latimes.com

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