Tuesday, October 05, 2004

YOU GIVE IT AWAY LIKE FREE SAMPLES/ I DON'T WANT WHAT ANYONE COULD HAVE: The music industry - we've been watching it for a long time, and yet even so, we still can't believe its ability to miss the point so greatly, it doesn't just shoot itself in the foot, but it manages to hack the foot off with a blunt penknife and tosses it in the air before taking the pot-shot. The latest piece of stupidity comes from the big music chains. Remember them? The ones who are knowing they're watching their lifeblood drain away, who know it's time to manage decline and find other revenue sources. Their big beef is newspapers giving away free CDs.

The problem, they feel, is that the papers giving away tracks makes it harder for them to sell music. And, yes, maybe they might have trouble interesting passers-by in the very same tracks. But how does it actually hurt their business?

Let's imagine that The Daily Courant gives away a free CD with its Saturday edition, with twelve tracks on, one of which is The Jam doing Going Underground. Now, there may be a few people who had been thinking "I'd quite like Going Underground on CD" who will rub their hands in glee and buy The Courant. It might even been that a few of these people who wanted the track may have been planning to go down to the store rather than just fire up BitTorrent. And yes, they would be lost sales. I can't believe, though, that we're talking more than a few dozen for any specific track.

And I can't believe that the number of people who purchase just The Courant for Going Underground who had been planning or likely to buy it from a shop anyway aren't going to be more than offset by the people who will have been buying the Courant for the news and colour magazine, heard the CD, and suddenly were overwhelmed with the desire to then hear Beat Surrender, or Start or... other Jam things generally.

In fact, I think it's demonstrable. If you check how Sneaker Pimps first album is selling, it's currently in the mid 2000s on Amazon sales ranking - not setting the world alight, but quite impressive for an old album (as a guide, The Best of Lush is in the 8000s; Credit to The Nation's Take Dis is down at 32,000) ; I'd suggest the pretty healthy sales for a defunct band's 1997 album is totally down to the Independent carrying Six Underground on a covermount the weekend before last. Likewise, while the release of Smile will have helped move Beach Boys back catalogue, the reappearance of The Very Best Of The Beach Boys in the UK Top 75 owes a debt to the Mail On Sunday giveaway. And so on. The British Association of Record Dealers (BARD) claims to have carried out a survey which suggests "two thirds of labels see no sales rise as a result of covermounts", which seems odd to us - but then BARD also reckons that the 10 million CDs given away with papers last weekend have a potential value of GBP100 million - which means they think a compilation of hugely over-compilated golden oldies retails at ten quid.

The music retailers are threatening to withdraw support from any act which ends up on a free CD - which, sorry, is just absolute bollocks. If sales are so poor a limp collection of 70s love songs with the Daily Star is going to ruin your business, how can you afford to not stock The Libertines album because they gave a couple of tracks to The Observer? Or pull Hot Chocolate and The Jam off the shelves? On the other hand, as the blade hacks its way through the ligament, and the record shops load their trusdty lugers, who can be sure they really won't fire away at their own limbs once again?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Even if you believe this junk the retailers are spewing, it's just a tad unfair on the artists as they will have had no say-so whatsoever as to whether their tracks appeared on the compilations in the first place... this will have been entirely the labels' doing as they get *shedloads* of £££ from the newspapers for doing sod-all, making their financial bottom lines look very good and making up for the losses incurred from this week's failed boy band... I'm waiting for the retailers to boycott artists whose songs are played on the radio because it "makes it harder for them to sell music."

PS I think The Very Best Of The Beach Boys being in the Top 75 is mostly due to it being on sale in HMV for the equivalent of a coconut shell and some coloured beads.

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