It’s the Pricing, Stupid!

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Jon Iverson:

"To revitalize the CD, [president and CEO of retailing chain Hastings Entertainment] Marmaduke insists, "We must reduce wholesale prices immediately as unit volume declines. This lesson will be hard to learn for the European multinationals who think American CD prices are too low and the secret to high profit is a slow ratcheting-up of prices."

From time to time I check prices at retail stores in France, just to see whether the music industry had their reality check yet. You can have a Jamiroquai single for $4.5, that’s right, more than 2 bucks a song.
Meanwhile, I recently took my mp3 collection beyond the 700 albums mark. Don’t tell anyone, but the place to be is IRC, now that the P2P crowd is split among dozen programs. On the best Undernet channels, some guys share as many as 80,000 songs (you read that well, that translates into more than 6,000 albums, or 300+ Gb, and that’s just one guy!)
I own about 400 "regular" CDs but didn’t buy any for more than a year. They take too much space, and are just too expensive if you compare them to DVDs or books. If I could buy mp3 album compilations (a dozen albums per unit), say for $30/40, I wouldn’t bother burning them myself. The CD market has always been an insult to collectors, with its high prices and duplicate tracks (the same song found on several CDs). I would feel ashamed not to pay if I was taking money from the artists, but they’re not making much on CDs anyway. As it is, the compact disc is an ancient format sold through an obsolete distribution channel. It’s an utter lack of respect for the consumer.
There’s an underlying assumption record companies have to change: teenagers – their core target – are not stupid drones. They can enjoy good stuff, provided they’re exposed to it. Music is a huge field that its lovers strive to spend their life learning and discovering. You won’t do that by listening again and again to the same commercial soup. And spending a fortune to be able to have a decent collection doesn’t work with consumers either. Moving beyond the crass mediocrity of the current mass market is the way to grow volumes, but to do so will require less expensive unit prices. Leverage your catalogs instead of shoveling dirt into people’s ears.
12/19/01 update: Salon: Don’t steal music, pretty please
12/30/01 update: Music CD prices slashed in US (can you smell fear?)
02/27/02 update: The future of music.
03/02/02 update: Music Fans Must Rebel Against Greedy Record Industry (not really the kind of stuff I expected from Fox, until I realized Ken Layne writes there now).
05/19/03 update: Web should turn to golden oldies.

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