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Holiday Music Has a Cash-Register Ring to It

Stocks in this article: P NLSN ARB

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Well, holiday music lovers, this is it: The First Acceptable Day for Holiday Music.

Declared so by old cranks, young contrarians, tortured retail workers and scores of fellow countrymen who haven't figured out how to turn a dial or listen to music through something other than their grandparents' transistor radios, today is supposedly the first day you can listen to holiday songs without someone casting some passive-aggressive scorn your way. No exasperated sighs of "already?" passed beneath rolling eyes. No multi-page screeds about holiday creep or the continued commercialization of the culture. Just as many spins of Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree, Sleigh Ride, Christmas In Hollis, A Fairytale of New York and All I Want For Christmas Is You as you can handle.

Just don't expect them to shell out for more than some playlists. Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Jewel and Bad Religion -- yes, the punk band with the evolutionary biology professor frontman who brought you American Jesus -- are among the bands pushing holiday albums this year in a market that has shown little appetite for them. Last year, Nielsen (NLSN) Soundscan reported a 7.1% drop in album sales between Nov. 5 and Dec. 30 from the same period a year before. The holiday music genre, meanwhile, saw its digital track sales drop 12% from 13.7 million purchases in 2011 to 12.1 million last year.

The two best-selling holiday albums of the season -- Rod Stewart's Merry Christmas Baby and Michael Buble's Christmas -- sold roughly 1.37 million copies combined. That still didn't match the sales of the season's best-selling album, Taylor Swift's Red. Meanwhile, Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree was the season's most purchased single at nearly 1.8 million sold, but didn't have any other holiday tunes keeping it company in the Top 10.

In fairness, Buble's Christmas alone sold more than 2.2 million copies in 2011, when Justin Bieber's Under The Mistletoe chipped in another 1 million sales. However, holiday music sales only managed a 1.1% uptick in 2011 even with those heavy hitters in the mix.

Nope, as my colleague Rocco Pendola suggested to me a few weeks ago, holiday music is little more than Muzak. It's pleasant background music with just enough sentimental attachment to make people remember where they were the last time they heard it and hopefully inspire them to throw a party, hit the stores and, in any case, buy something. I've noted before that he's somewhat correct. A 33-market study conducted by radio research firm Arbitron (ARB) in 2009 found that the average market share for radio stations that switched to the all-holiday format rose 91%.

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