November 24, 2010

iTunes! The Beatles! Downloading! Exclamation marks!

itunes-logoabbey roadexclamation mark

You seem to be web-savvy enough to be reading this blog, so I'm going to assume you've heard all the furor about The Beatles over the last 10 days. Yes, The Beatles have finally released their catalogue of music on iTunes, seemingly ending decades of feuds between Apple Corps (the company owning of much of the rights to The Beatles music) and Apple Inc. (Steve Jobs' computer monster that originally signed a deal to never be involved in music.)

With all the delays in the 'launch' (the iTunes Store went live in 2003, and digital music has been around longer than many music consumers), I wondered if it was a case of too little, too late. Nielsen Soundscan released the figures yesterday, and in the first seven days, The Beatles sold over 2 million singles and more than 450,000 albums. Quite a lot. Well, kinda.....

I'm not a die-hard Beatles fan, but I own 4 of their albums on CD or 12" vinyl. I'm not in a rush to go out and sweep up another 4 or 5 digitally, especially when Amazon played along and dropped the prices of all the remastered Beatles albums on CD to a competitive $7.99 each. I'm sure I'll pick up another one or two at that price soon, but right now I have been sidetracked by their Thanksgiving week sale, where they have slashed prices on various digital albums to just $1.99 each. So far I have picked up LPs from John Legend & The Roots, Gorillaz, Belle & Sebastian, KT Tunstall, Vampire Weekend and more.

Before this starts sounding too much like a promotion for Amazon, my point is this... Album pricing needs to be drastically adjusted. At $1.99 I am (and many others are, i'm sure) sweeping them up: exploring new sounds, current trends and past hits of unknown artists. Discovering new music and taking a 'risk' is fun and easy. Yet, I don't know if the industry can sustain at that price point (at least, not with major labels and their costs involved.) Eight bucks for a CD? I'm still going to have to choose wisely, and just pick up one or two a month that are dead certain. I'm not risking too much - too many memories of being burnt by terrible LPs from the 90s ;)

$12.99 for a digital album that isn't full WAV or FLAC quality, and I may have bought in previous formats over the last 20 years, and could potentially rip a better quality recording from... I'll pass every time. If convenience is king (and, it is), it is not convenient for me to spend 52 bucks to 'replace' my Beatles collection with inferior quality audio, years after I bought the CD/vinyl.

Correcting this price point could inspire a whole new generation to buy a collection of Beatles albums. I'm not saying that younger music listeners aren't into them now, but chances are they ripped a copy of Sgt Pepper about 10 years ago. This year, there have been two much more headline worthy releases - Taylor Swift sold a whopping 1 million albums in the first week with her latest release, and Eminem topped off a $60m tour with another million sales of his 'Recovery' LP - going platinum in just two weeks.

With all the hype for the Beatles, and all the things this could have been, I feel it is much ado about nothing. And so... Apple (Inc. and Corps), if you halved the price per unit and sold twice as many units, would that have been a bad move?

Lee Jarvis.

(Previously posted at US Music Jobs' blog.)

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