Jason Isbell’s ‘Reunions’ Debuts Strong Despite Limited Availability

The original release date for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new album Reunions was May 15th. But in an effort to help struggling brick and mortar independent record stores, the songwriter chose to make his new album available in physical form the week before, on May 8th, exclusively to retail record establishments.

The move was a bit of a risk for numerous reasons. Getting the record to stores a week early in the midst of a pandemic in hopes of people taking pickup and delivery options from stores that often couldn’t let patrons inside certainly put plenty of variables in play. There was also the concern of parsing your debut sales over two weeks instead of one, which could injure Isbell’s ability to chart high like he did for his last two records, Something More Than Free and The Nashville Sound—both of which went #1 in country and rock upon debut.

But so far the altruistic strategy has appeared to pay off. With only counting physical sales on the first week, Reunions still ended up charting well. The record debuts at #1 on Billboard’s Top Vinyl Albums chart, #6 on Billboard’s all-genre Top Album Sales chart which factors in physical sales only, as well as #17 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart, and #20 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart, both of which include streaming and downloads in their metrics.

Reunions sold just over 7,100 albums to achieve these rankings. But obviously, the title did not have the benefit of streams, downloads, or physical sales from online retailers such as Amazon to gauge the full breadth of public appeal. This will only be possible when combining those initial numbers with the sales, streaming, and download numbers coming up next week.

The next question is, will taking away this 7,100 in physical sales injure the official debut chart performance of Jason Isbell on his actual debut week? It possibly could. But with no other big titles releasing in country the same week, there is still a good possibility Isbell could debut at #1, with his biggest competition likely being Luke Combs, who once again came in at #1 and #2 this week with his last two records, What You See Is What You Get and This One’s For You.

With Luke Combs registering roughly 21K to 22K total consumption weekly, and Jason Isbell historically debuting with sales and streaming equivalents in the 50K range, even when factoring in the 7,100 in sales from the indie record stores, Isbell should still have a fighting chance to hit #1.

But beyond the charts, simply the 7,100 copies sifted through independent record stores feels like a victory for Jason Isbell. This generated roughly $140,000 to $150,000 in economic activity for these establishments. The record should show that Isbell’s tiered release with an altruistic aim may have dampened his official debut week numbers, but did a big service to the mom and pop stores out there struggling during the COVID-19 shutdown.

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