by Ed Christman

Lil Wayne is giving himself a nice birthday present on Monday (Sept. 27), but brick-and-mortar merchants haven’t been invited to the party. The rapper released his next album, “I Am Not a Human Being,” initially through digital channels only, with the physical release coming out two weeks later on Oct. 12. The physical album will have 12 tracks, two more than the digital release.

According to sources, Cash Money/Universal Motown is projecting first week digital sales of 90,000 units for “I Am Not a Human Being”; second week digital sales of 25,000 units, and then the third week of digital and first week of physical is expected to do sales of 225,000 units, with 20,000 of that coming from digital.

By releasing “I Am Not a Human Being” digitally only, Lil Wayne appears to have done in his chance to claim the top spot on the Billboard 200. Next week, Kenny Chesney’s “Hemingway Whiskey” is being released and Sony Nashville is projecting first week sales to be roughly 300,000 units, which surpasses the Lil Wayne first week projection. Still, the digital supply can certainly keep up if it turns out that Cash Money/Universal Motown underestimated demand.

Most brick-and-mortar merchants worry that putting a digital release out early could turn into a trend. “Its disturbing,” says one merchant. “Its definitely putting brick-and-mortar second, and we are going to lose business that we would normally get. How is the consumer going to know that the album will have a second physical release?”

Another merchant complains that with a little ingenuity, Lil Wayne could have had his birthday cake and eaten it too, and still left some for brick-and-mortar merchants. That merchant wonders why Lil Wayne just didn’t offer a discount or a premium for fans who pre-ordered the album on his birthday, instead of choosing to alienate an entire retail channel.

Meanwhile, not everyone is annoyed at the two-phase release strategy, or at least won’t know how annoyed to be until it’s determined if “I Am Not a Human Being,” sells like “Rebirth” or “Tha Carter III.”

“Rebirth,” a rock album with some hip-hop tracks, came out in the first week of February scanned 175,000 units, on its way to selling 677,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The all rap “Tha Carter III,” which came out in June 2008, scanned 1 million units in its debut week, which was the last U.S. Album to achieve that sales feat. That album has since sold 3.5 million units. Digital sales of the former comprise 17% and 11% of the latter.