Retailers Predict Big Week For Michael Jackson's Invincible

First-day sales of long-delayed album are strong, they report.

Despite all the naysayers, Michael Jackson's Invincible may provide the superstar with a comeback after all, though not as huge as he might have liked.

Five national retail chains said Wednesday (October 31) that based on first-day sales of the album, first-week totals weren't as simple or easy to project as with obvious blockbusters like 'NSYNC's Celebrity. But Invincible, released Tuesday, does seem to be on course to debut at #1, retailers said.

Before the numbers started coming in, retailers predicted the self-designated King of Pop would run neck-and-neck with pop heirs to the throne the Backstreet Boys, whose The Hits — Chapter One also came out Tuesday.

But Jackson's main contenders appear to be new releases from Lenny Kravitz (Lenny) and Enrique Iglesias (Escape) as well DMX's current chart-topper, The Great Depression. At Best Buy, for example, Jackson is outselling the new releases, but he's not holding his own against DMX. At Tower, DMX isn't nipping at Jackson's heels as much as Iglesias is. And at Virgin, it's Kravitz that's coming in strong, just after Jacko.

"Michael performed pretty well yesterday," said Dave Alder, senior vice president of product and marketing at Virgin Entertainment Group. "Invincible was a little slow at midnight, but then it picked up, outselling Lenny, Enrique and Backstreet three to one, not combined. He's got a good start. But Lenny is his biggest contender.

"The question with Michael is whether the album will successfully endure the holiday season and keep the level running," he continued. "You've obviously got a loyal fanbase. But there are some strong titles coming up, from Pink Floyd to Faith Evans to Britney Spears, and everything will shift and change. This is obviously a telling season, and it's been a difficult year for music retail. ... The next three weeks will define what happens for the holiday."

For now, though, Jackson remains "the biggest sales story of the week," according to Bob Bell, senior pop/rock music buyer for the Wherehouse Music chain. "It looks like Enrique, Jermaine Dupri, Lenny Kravitz and the Backstreet Boys will all debut in the top 10," Bell said, "but the clear-away winner of the week is Michael Jackson. It will be our #1 record. And falling after that will be Enrique, Jermaine, Lenny and Backstreet, in that order. All the people doubting Michael Jackson will hopefully be proved wrong with this one. The numbers speak for themselves."

Bell predicted that by week's end, Jackson will pull in 300,000 in total first-week sales. Other chains were less eager to predict a national number, though Tower spokesperson Sara Hanson did estimate that Invincible should pull in 25,000 for that chain alone. Most, like Best Buy spokesperson Donna Beadle, echoed a general prediction of mid-to-high numbers for Jackson, saying that so far, "Michael Jackson has exceeded our expectations."

But what were those expectations based upon? Jackson's hiatus and reclusive nature, which may have stoked the flames of anticipation? The hype about Invincible, which Epic Records Group President Polly Anthony called a "global smash" two months before its release? Or was it simply that the long-delayed, much-revised record, because it reportedly cost more than $30 million to make, was poised to become either the biggest hit or flop of the year, prompting speculation and debate before anyone actually heard it?

"Consider the anticipation for this record," Tower's Hanson said, "and compare that to when Dangerous came out. Obviously, it was a different time, retail was very strong, and the Internet wasn't apparent. But Dangerous did very well with that, and the excitement was very big. Dangerous did do slightly better for us on its first day out, but we're talking about not even a 10 percent difference. And the anticipation right now is very high. The timeliness of it, especially. People are looking for icons now."

At Sam Goody, Invincible is selling better than Jackson's last studio album of all new material, 1991's Dangerous. Still, Invincible's sales figures — which they wouldn't disclose for competitive reasons — don't come close to how well DMX did, Sam Goody spokesperson Dawn Bryant said.

As for once-contenders the Backstreet Boys, their latest offering is seeing a big drop compared to how their last release, Black & Blue, did out of the gate. At Tower alone, The Hits — Chapter One is selling one-eighth of what Black & Blue did on its first day out. "That's a large difference," Hanson said. "I'm not sure what that says about the album itself or what fans are anticipating, but it didn't do so well."