Japan's Major Labels Push Back Music Releases

J-Pop musicians Seiko Matsuda (Universal) and Yuki (Sony) are among the artists whose albums are being delayed. Record companies cite difficulty of TV promotion, event cancellations, travel challenges.

Amid the triple disasters of the Tohoko-Kanto Great Earthquake (as it is now being called), the tsunami and radiation contamination, major labels in Japan are pushing back their March album and DVD releases to April and beyond.

Some of the artists whose release dates are being pushed back include J-Pop musicians Seiko Matsuda (Universal) and Yuki (Sony), chart-topping K-Pop artists Kara (Universal) and Bigbang (Universal), female hard-rock band Chatmonchy (Sony),  techno-pop group Denki Groove (Sony), and visual-kei hard rocke group L'Arc-en-Ciel (Sony).
Yoshikazu Takahashi, SVP of Corporate Communications at Sony Music Entertainment Japan says "We decided that delays in releases were unavoidable due to the extensive effects of the March 11 earthquake on manufacturing, distribution, including retail, and logistics."
Though Tokyo was relatively unscathed by the earthquake and untouched by the resultant tsunami, work did grind to a halt last week (Sony, Avex Group Holdings and Universal Music Japan all closed their offices March 16-18). Radiation contamination, direct as well as through water and food, remains an issue in the capital city.
Train schedules are almost completely back to normal in Tokyo and rolling blackouts over many eastern parts of the country have not affected central Tokyo at all. But the aftermath of the disasters continue to be felt in the country as whole and the entertainment industry in particular.
Sony has made the most dramatic changes, "Several hundred titles scheduled for release between March 23 and March 30 have been rescheduled for dates in April (and) onwards" explains Takahashi. He adds, however,  "We have not confirmed fewer broadcast numbers for video clips."
Universal Music Japan is also moving its March releases to April, affecting at least 29 titles. Kazutoyo Yamana, senior manager of corporate Planning at Universal, noted: "We decided to postpone the physical releases scheduled on March 23, 25 and 30 and reduce the volume of products being distributed domestically so that the delivery of relief goods to the devastated areas would be done more smoothly."
Warner Music Japan, too, has pushed back its March releases, with over 45 CD and DVD titles being delayed.
The labels face a myriad of problems preceding with normal business though the devastated area in Japan in relatively small. Yamana estimates that "physical sales volume of the devastated areas is about 8% of total annual physical sales" in Japan.
The disruption is business, however, has a chain affect, as Takahashi points out. "Depending on the changes in release dates, promotion plans need to be adjusted accordingly.  Live tours are scheduled to coincide with album releases, so release delays significantly affect these plans as well."
And the situation with production is also quite daunting. Yamana observes, "CD manufacturing factories have recovered their physical production ratio to around 60% so far, but due to the planned blackout by the electric companies, the actual production proceeds with around 30% availability."
Takahashi also notes that TV promotion of music has become more difficult. "Due to the quake disaster itself, rather than decreased electric power, news programs about quake-related issues replaced not only music but many or most of the scheduled programming."
He adds, "As of today (March 24), programming is easing back to the regular schedule. Effects of the rolling power outages are not established as of yet (and) it is something we will be considering (from) here on."
Numerous performances have been canceled across the industry and Yamane relates that for Universal "most of the music events scheduled in late March have been canceled."
In addition, three days worth of collaborative concert events, which were to be co-organized by Universal Music Japan and Universal Studios Japan to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the studio, has been called off.
The major label will soldier on, as will Japan, but it looks increasingly clear that revenue for 2010 will be impacted by the disasters stemming from March 11.