Friday, February 25, 2005

RECORD COMPANIES PULL POUTY-FIT. AGAIN: The days of the cover-mounted CD with the national papers (okay, tucked into the colour supplement CD) are possibly coming to an end, as Universal announces it won't allow its back catalogue to be used for the giveaways any more. EMI has already stopped letting its artists find new audiences in this way, and since the big companies act like a monopoly, it's only going to be a wee while before Sony-BMG do the same.

How many extra albums do they think they'll sell as a result? They seem convinced they'll see loads:

"We're saying we are pulling out in terms of regular slots that happen every other weekend," the UMTV [Universal's back catalogue wing] managing director, Brian Berg, told MusicWeek.

"There are so many of the bloody things they are doing more harm than good to our compilations business, and on that basis we feel we'd be better off out of it."

Of course, Record Shops are delighted - the British Association of Record Dealers' Kim Bailey was frothing:

"This is excellent news. We've always said that newspaper covermounts devalue music in the eyes of consumers, propagate the myth that all music should be free and damage the long term viability of the music business. This is a very positive step. We hope this is the end of the free newspaper CD, but that remains to be seen. There's certainly a growing recognition in the industry that giveaways damage compilation sales."

Let's just think about what Kim is saying there, shall we? Firstly, that there's a "myth that all music should be free" - is Kim really saying that there's anyone who holds that view? Really? And that it's a view which is being openly endorsed by The Sun and the News of the World, part of the same empire which release records? And, more to the point, is Kim really suggesting that someone picks up their Daily Star Sunday, finds a compilation featuring Rose Royce doing Carwash and thinks "Blimey, now I've got every right to go and steal that Stereophonics CD from Asda"? Absurd.

The mantra that if someone gets something for free, they'll never pay for it again is one that is fast becoming accepted as some sort of fact the more the record industry repeats it, despite the obvious proof in every other industry that things don't work like that - unless those people sending me the free sample of K-Y warming lube have got their business plan all wrong.

There is, of course, a dubious statistic to support the claim that the giveaways 'harm' sales:

According to official sales figures, sales of compilations have fallen; from 24% of the total CD market down to just 19%, a fall that is partly blamed on the growing numbers of free CDs.

Well... maybe. Or it could be, couldn't it, that people are getting the compilations of various artists, finding new acts they love, and buying single artist albums as a result. It would be unlikely if someone bought a compilation and got a taste for compilations rather than individuals. More to the point, compilations got 24% in a market where poor releases meant the whole market was depressed: 19% of a market where more records were being sold, and in competition with a better choice of more attractive single-artist packages could be every bit as good as 24% without much other competition. We'll bet that Robbie Best Of hurt Now Thats What I Call Music last Christmas.

In effect, then, the industry has made another stupid decision. It's turned down actually being paid to promote its artists to a bigger market. Is there anyone in charge at a major with any business skills at all?