A Love/Hate Relationship: iTunes And The Music Industry

Last week, Estelle's "American Boy" featuring Kanye West, already a UK #1, sat just outside the top 10 and was poised to make its entrance this week. That, however, did not happen. Instead, "American Boy" plummeted from #11 to #37. The reason for the sudden drop is digital download sales? "American Boy" was the eighth most downloaded song in the country before August 19th when Atlantic Records pulled its parent album, Shine, from iTune's virtual shelves.

The decision came after seeing the relative success of Kid Rock's Rock 'N Roll Jesus. The album has been kept off iTunes, yet has sold 1.6 million copies. If it had been made available digitally, how many of those 1.6 million albums would have been downloads of just one song, say, "All Summer Long", the album's biggest hit? It's impossible to know for sure, but what is certain is that both Atlantic Records and Kid Rock would rather sell a $14.00 album than a $.99 single.

The record industry is facing record lows year after year as online piracy continues, burned CD's and mixes flourish, and other forms of entertainment compete for people's time. Initially, iTunes seemed like the solution to this growing problem, giving consumers a legal alternative to Napster or Limewire. In five years, the Apple music store has sold more than five billion songs and since the beginning of the year has overtaken Wal-Mart's spot as the largest music retailer. Ken Levitan, Kid Rock's manager, sees things differently. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Levitan commented, "In so many ways it's turned our business back into a singles business," and that iTunes is "part of the death knell of the music business."

Atlantic's choice to keep albums of iTunes is a bold move designed to boost revenues and keep an album's artistic integrity intact, but it carries big risks. Will consumers who were willing to purchase "American Boy" off the Apple store turn to illegal means to get the track? Will consumers be willing to spend money on an entire album if they only know there is one song on it they like? Levitan is sure the risks are worth it. "Check some of these artists that have hit singles, versus their album sales, then compare it to what Kid Rock is doing." "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry has sold 2.2 million downloads compared to her album, One Of The Boys, which has managed a mere 282,000 copies sold. M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" is up to 888,000 downloads while Kala has sold only 272,000 copies.

As a whole, iTunes sold 844 million songs last year and only 50 million digital albums. It's easy to see why keeping music off iTunes seems so attractive to a record industry in decline but not giving the consumer what they want is always dangerous. Maybe artists should just release a bunch of hit singles from an album and then release a bunch more hit singles and then put them all together on one album. Oh wait, they do. It's called Super Deluxe Ultra Platinum Reloaded Edition Rerelease.

3 comments:

vicm said...

Make better albums with less filler and then maybe we will buy them.

JohnPatrick said...

Excellent article! Great structure and information... Interesting stuff. Too bad about American Boy... I was just gonna download that today!

Bronson said...

Rereleases are the way to go I guess. You get all the fans who already bought the first edition of the CD and they will buy the new one. Then you get people who finally give in and buy CD because it seems like such a good deal for so many hits jam packed onto one disc.

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