Music cartels pull select singles from iTunes Store in attempt to force ‘album’ bundle sales again

“iTunes has been the runaway hit of the music business, selling more than five billion song downloads since it started five years ago. But a growing number of record companies are trying to steer clear of Apple Inc.’s behemoth music store, because they say selling single songs on iTunes in some cases is crimping overall music [album] sales,” Ethan Smith and Nick Wingfield report for The Wall Street Journal.

“Kid Rock’s ‘Rock ‘n Roll Jesus’ album was kept off iTunes’ virtual shelves. It has nonetheless sold 1.7 million copies in the U.S. since its release last year — a sizable number for the depressed music industry. Sales of the album have increased in 19 of the past 22 weeks, according to Nielsen SoundScan, vaulting it to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 sales chart. After witnessing the album’s performance, his label, Warner Music Group Corp.’s Atlantic Records, last week yanked an album by R&B singer Estelle from the iTunes Store, four months after it went on sale there — and the same week that one of its songs entered the top-10-selling tracks on Apple’s download service,” Smith and Wingfield report.

“Avoiding iTunes runs against the conventional logic of the music industry, where it’s now taken as an article of faith that digital downloads will eventually replace CDs. But there is growing discomfort with the dominant role iTunes already plays: The store sells 90% or more of digital downloads in the U.S., according to people in the music industry. At the start of this year, iTunes become the largest retailer of music in the U.S., surpassing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., according to research firm NPD Group Inc.,” Smith and Wingfield report.

“Label executives, managers and artists chafe against the iTunes policy that prevents them from selling an album only,” Smith and Wingfield report.

MacDailyNews Take: Boom! Finally we get to the crux of the issue. The cartels and some “artists” are pissed off that they can no longer bundle to force people to pay more for their product by forcing them to buy product they do not want.

Smith and Wingfield continue, “iTunes, with few exceptions, requires that songs be made available separately. Consumers strongly prefer that, though Apple also typically offers a special price for buyers who purchase all the songs on an album.”

“Some artists see their albums as one piece of work, and don’t want them dismantled,” Smith and Wingfield report. “Their handlers believe they can make more by selling complete albums for $10 to $15 than by selling individual songs.”

MacDailyNews Take: Some “artists” are self-titled. They, and their handlers, are greedy bastards who want to rip off their “fans” by denying purchasing choice. This way, they can accumulate additional homes, Bentley’s, and bad hats much more quickly; just like the old days. It’s not “art,” it’s just greed. And, it’s wrong. If their “album” was really “art,” then they would not force people to buy it that way, people just would. In fact, it’s precisely when it’s not “art” that it’s not made available in ways that allow the customer to decide for themselves what they want to buy and what they don’t. Real “artists” don’t deny choice for profit.

Smith and Wingfield continue, “‘In so many ways it’s turned our business back into a singles business,’ says Ken Levitan, Kid Rock’s manager. Mr. Levitan says the rise of iTunes is far from being a boon to the industry; instead, he calls it ‘part of the death knell of the music business.'”

MacDailyNews Take: Ken Levitan is a fool if he believes his own bullshit. iTunes Store, for the first time, offers real purchasing choice and kills off the bundle, also known as the “album,” which is an artificial construct developed over time that’s designed to force people to buy inferior product to get desired product, usually at a ratio of 4 or 5 or 6-1 (filler vs. quality). iTunes Store is the death knell for the old music business. No longer will bundling be tolerated by the consumer. By the way, many real artists have taken the “album” construct and made actual art that is meant to be listened to as a whole and in the order the artist intended. We all know the names of these albums. Those artists are not afraid to offer their fans the right to buy single songs because they know that they do not need to force album sales because they offer quality, coherent, artistic albums that are devoid of filler.

Smith and Wingfield continue, “The launch of Apple’s iTunes service in 2003 was hailed as a potential savior for the industry: It allows consumers an easy, legal way to buy music online, while still cutting record companies in on a portion of the sales… Apple isn’t willing to sell songs for more than 99 cents. Most record labels see higher prices as critical to increasing revenue.”

Smith and Wingfield report, “‘This is a last gasp for the album format,’ says Aram Sinnreich, a media professor at New York University, who says most albums have only one or two good songs surrounded by little more than ‘filler material.'”

MacDailyNews Take: Aram Sinnreich speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Smith and Wingfield continue, “This year, Kid Rock, whose real name is Bob Ritchie, has had a massive radio hit with ‘All Summer Long’ …Mr. Levitan, his manager, points out that if his client’s album were sold the way iTunes wants, many of his 1.6 million U.S. album sales to date would instead have shown up as 99-cent downloads of ‘All Summer Long.'”

MacDailyNews Take: And there you have it. From the lips of Bob Ritchie’s not-very-bright manager: “Kid Rock” is not an artist. He doesn’t care about “art.” The “album” is not “art,” it is just a bundle, an artificial construct designed to help him and his handlers accumulate cash more quickly.

Smith and Wingfield continue, “After witnessing the sales performance of Kid Rock’s album, Atlantic Records executives decided to look for other albums whose sales might get a boost from being taken off iTunes, according to people close to the company. They settled on Estelle’s ‘Shine,’ which had sold 95,000 copies; the song ‘American Boy’ was just taking off as a single, and had recently become one of the 10 best-selling songs on iTunes. In July the label had issued a press release touting the single’s success on iTunes.”

MacDailyNews Take: See, what you do is, you find a good single, then you force customers to buy the whole album in order to get it and then it’s just like the good old days! The music cartels are filled with drug-addled slime buckets who, by pulling singles from iTunes Store to force album sales, are trying to put their old underhanded business models on life support. It won’t last.

Full article here.

Some people get all upset about our assertion that the “album” is an artificial construct designed make you pay more for what you want by forcing bundles on you. Please know that we have certain albums we love dearly; albums that we play all the way through, in the order that the artist intended. But, we’ll be damned if we’ll be forced to buy them that way. We had more than enough of that in the CD era, thanks.

So, for the sake of dispassionate clarity, let’s remove music from the equation:

We went into a bar owned by Kid Rock the other day and tried to order a bottle of “Kid Rock” beer. The bartender laughed and told us that they don’t sell singles; they only sell 12-packs. Can you believe the nerve? Not only that, but all bottles in these 12-packs would be filled with a yellow liquid, but only 1 or 2 bottles would actually be filled with beer. “Kid filled the rest himself,” the bartender laughed.

Not being stupid, we went next door to another bar where we found the same “Kid Rock” beer, as singles, for free! That bar was called “BeerTorrent.”

The album is dead. Trying to keep it alive is not only sad and greedy, it’s sheer folly.

Music Cartels: Stop trying to cheat people. The people now have the means to make you pay for your limitless greed. Make more good music and you’ll sell more music.

89 Comments

  1. Vote with your wallets by not purchasing and I guarantee that they’ll reverse their thinking.

    But it sounds to me that these people are lazy. They are not working to adapt their thinking and way of doing things to attract and keep their customers without offending them while being profitable all at the same time.

  2. Time for the Artists to contract with the iTunes store directly, so they can keep a larger share of the pie.

    Maybe they will still be able to afford Bentleys if they are able to produce a sufficient number of hit songs. Too bad the executives in the Label companies will be able to buy fewer Bentleys.

  3. Yeah, this is all just BS. The argument that ‘some artists see their albums as one piece of work, and don’t want them dismantled’ is a joke. The fact that I can go to iTunes and buy individual songs from The Wall and Tommy, two of the greatest concept albums in history, ends all discussion.

  4. Disagree slightly with the idea that the album is dead.

    Also, CDs killed the album much more than iTunes did. A typical LP was usually 40 mins long at most. Now with CDs that can have up to 70 mins of music, consumers demanded more tracks on each CD. Thus came filler to occupy CD space; many tracks which would have never made it on an LP.

  5. If ‘artists’ would make better songs, then they wouldn’t have to bundle ‘the good stuff’ with the filler.

    Making their ‘art’ unavailable to consumers will only encourage theft.

    Tell the label execs to get bent.

  6. If I were an author and wrote a novel, I wouldn’t want somebody purchasing individual chapters of my book, as it wouldn’t represent the work I crafted as a whole, the way it was intended to be read.

    The same goes for musical artists. If I created a concept album such as Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or Queensryche’s “Operation Mindcrime” that was meant to be listened to as one piece of work, I should have the right to sell it as one artistic work, and consumers should have a right to vote with their wallets by not purchasing it. It’s not greed if you simply want your work to be represented the way you intended it to be.

    This is a right artists should have and we as consumers don’t have to pay for a full album if we don’t want to. I don’t see why this rankles people so much. If you don’t want the whole thing, don’t buy it.

  7. I just “acquired” ‘All Summer Long’ and ‘Shine’!

    This should help offset those bundled purchases… ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  8. Whilst I might agree that albums such as Pink Floyd’s, or even earlier those by (say) King Crimson or even Joni Mitchell or Carole King (Tapestry?), these were albums worth buying as an album.

    Today as MDN says, most *albums* are little more than a couple of decent tracks and the rest are fillers. Once ‘artists’ start producing *real* albums again, then people will buy them. Until them they’ll either go to the torrent sites or keep their wallets closed.

  9. When you go to an art gallery: do you buy one picture, or the whole collection?

    When you go to the cinema, do you have to watch every James Bond film or just one?

    When you go to the bookshop, do you have to buy all three of Ludlum’s Bourne Trilogy or the one you want?

    Seems to me the GREED of the labels knows no bounds.

    That said, I’d only buy The Who’s “Tommy” as an album…! But that’s MY CHOICE!

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