Sunday, October 04, 2009

Screwing the American music consumer


Free All Music is currently registering for a new program not yet launched. The program? Watch an advertisement online and get a free download. The company hopes to 'go live' in December. In the meantime?

Look to the Brits.

While Americans were fat and lazy during the CD hey-day, Brits were not. Americans didn't really give a damn that the $8.99 albums on cassette were costing $16.99 on CD. The broken promise of how, once the format took off, the prices would fall registered with few beyond a few complaints between bong hits.

In England, they fought loudly.

There was no excuse for the high cost of CDs. The disc itself is cheap. The artist isn't making the money. The songwriter (if it's different than the artist) isn't making all that money. It's the label. And the labels screwed people over and begged for the creation of music piracy in the process.

Music Week just reported on a new survey of British music lovers, "Respondents were also quizzed on their views on music piracy and illegal downloads, with 74% believing that music is now too expensive, and 63% claiming they would buy more music if costs were lower. The high cost of music was the main reason cited for choosing pirate downloads over legal purchases, with one in four men admitting that more than 50% of their music collection was made up of illegal downloads."

The cost of downloads is too expensive?

Saturday, on a quick trip to Borders with Ty, Dona saw Bonnie Raitt's Streetlights which Jim had downloaded peaking her interest in the album, leading her to snag C.I.'s copy. It was on sale for $5.99 so she bought it. At iTunes, she'd pay $9.90, at Amazon, the more reasonable $6.97. But at Borders, she got the album for $5.99 -- cover art, plastic case, disc and all.

Last January, Steve Jobs wanted the world to kiss his butt yet again when he announced that, starting in April, iTunes would be offering a new pricing system "with many more songs priced at 69 cents". The pricing system was Jobs' way of pumping up the pricing to $1.29 a tune (from the current 99 cents).

And while the pricing has increased to $1.29 a tune (check iTunes pricing for Barbra Streisand's tracks from Love Is The Answer, for example), the idea that iTunes would be swamped with 69 cents downloads never really took off.

The three minutes and eleven seconds version of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" retails at iTunes for $1.29. A number one hit from 1965 is being sold at the highest price possible?

You think you're not being screwed as a consumer?

Go through the nearly 150 tracks by Sonny & Cher iTunes offer (nearly because they have a Debi Mazar podcast -- for free -- listed and, no, Debi didn't record with Sonny & Cher) and you'll find nothing for sixty nine cents.

Go to the Mamas and the Papas at iTunes and you'll see iTunes is selling "California Dreamin'" for $1.29 but search in vain for the 69 cent track.

We searched and searched for these mythical 69 cent tracks from iTunes before finally finding some. Judy Henske, a great artist. Some tracks from her early sixties folk albums are available for 69 cents. So maybe it's folk music only that are 69 cents? We checked out Joan Baez' 149 songs and found none for 69 cents. Donovan? 149 tracks, all for 99 cents.

Jackie DeShannon? Out of the nearly 150 tracks offered, we counted six that were for 69 cents. "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" was not one of them. That retails for 99 cents if you grab it via My Best Friend's Wedding (soundtrack) but the same recording by Jackie carried on other albums will cost you $1.29 to download.

We went with those choices for a reason. There is no overhead on any of the artists we listed. No label has not recouped recording sessions from those tracks laid down in the sixties. So where's the money going because this new pricing system won't be going to the artist or the songwriters or the musicians.

There's no overhead, there's nothing to recoup. So what's the deal with upping the prices?

99 cents a track was outrageous. But it was across the line at iTunes. It wasn't good enough for greedy Steve Jobs -- nothing ever has been and he's been screwing over musicians since the days of his early eighties music festivals. So he lied that iTunes would be able to offer many tracks cheaper -- only 69 cents a download! -- so he could turn around and raise the prices on many more tracks.

While Americans are just so thrilled to not be forking over $16.99 (or more) for a new album (downloading it for $9.99 instead), the British are wondering why when the labels don't have to manufacture a disc, the prices are still so high. Americans better be paying attention because this is how it starts, greedy Steve Jobs kicks the price up a little, then another greedy person does and, eight years on down the line, you're paying $3.50 to download one track.
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