The Death Of The Album Has Been Exaggerated

from the if-you-market-properly dept

The common wisdom you hear these days is that the concept of the "album" is dying thanks mainly to the ability to obtain single songs (whether through legal means or not). However, some are beginning to challenge that thinking. Bandcamp, a fantastic service for musicians we've discussed before notes that their sales data bucks the trend: full albums outsell single song downloads on the site. There are a few reasons why:
  • Most Bandcamp artists are indie and attract fans more interested in complete works than the average Hannah Montana/Lady Gaga flavor of the moment consumer
  • You can listen before you buy via Bandcamp. Not just 30 second samples, but rather the whole album.
  • iTunes and others price most CD's at $10. Bandcamp artists have found that name your own price with a $5 minimum is a real sweet spot.
  • iTunes and others encourage single track purchases with page layouts, buy buttons and featured tracks
This is definitely interesting. I know that I'm in the camp of folks who never buy single tracks, but always look to buy the full albums of bands I like, so that makes sense. But the really interesting point is the third bullet: if albums were priced closer to $5, people would likely be a lot more interested in buying. Again, this shouldn't be a surprise. When the old Allofmp3.com let people buy albums for sums between $2 and $5, it seemed to be quite popular -- even compared to the ability to just download albums. It certainly adds a lot of credence to the idea that one of the big problems the recording industry faced was really the super high prices of CDs.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    lavi d (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 1:59pm

    Deja Who

    ...the idea that one of the big problems the recording industry faced was really the super high prices of CDs.

    That sounds so familiar...

     

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  2.  
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    Lonnie E. Holder, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:01pm

    Concur

    I never buy singles. I would buy many more albums if they were priced at $6, and if they were priced at $5 or less, I would buy LOTS of albums.

     

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  3.  
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    MattP, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:16pm

    Pirates & Full Album Preview

    I see over and over the argument that pirates are just trying things out before they buy so they don't end up paying for something that sucks.

    Being able to listen to the whole album before making a purchase decision 'should' encourage a well informed buying decision and creation of whole albums people want to listen to rather than 1-2 select songs.

     

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  4.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:21pm

    of course

    albums got sued for price fixing remember?

    The end result was that the price fixing bar was simply lowered. It still exists, and it's $9.99 now. Apple probably has it in an exclusive agreement, I'd bet money.

    So of course, the 5$ reality of what a consumer would be happy to shell out, is exactly what the albums don't want. What's another 5$ for your margin when it costs you 0? Answer: a whole lot of executive pocket lining.

     

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  5.  
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    The Gaffer, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:31pm

    Ian Astbury disagrees

    Ian Astbury, lead singer of The Cult, disagrees. He was interviewed last week regarding the death of the album format thanks to iTunes at http://elpasotimes.typepad.com/pullen/2009/07/cult.html

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

     

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  6.  
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    Haywood, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    Re: of course

    "What's another 5$ for your margin when it costs you 0? Answer: a whole lot of executive pocket lining."

    So if you sell 10000 copies at $9.99 or 50000 copies at $5, which line pockets the best.

     

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  7.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Re: of course

    Nobody said there was logic. Only greed.

     

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  8.  
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    BillDivX, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    "I never buy singles. I would buy many more albums if they were priced at $6, and if they were priced at $5 or less, I would buy LOTS of albums."

    Spot on. I also think that part of the problem is that many of the so-called "acts" propped up by the major labels are not capable of producing a whole albums' worth of decent listening. 90% of major release albums are 1-2 good singles and the rest is crap. These singles, I might buy in an itunes format if there is no-drm, but there are still truly talented bands out there, putting out whole albums that are not just good all the way through, but actually better when taken in whole. I would pay $5 regularly for such albums if the option were available.

     

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  9.  
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    Ryan, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: of course

    If lowering the price created larger profit margins and they were merely greedy, they would obviously do it for more money. The problem is that they are short-sighted and resist change.

     

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  10.  
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    Seth, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 3:08pm

    I definitely agree with the $5 price point. And remember, labels have sold their physical records for $8-9 wholesale to retailers for quite a while now; they have never actually pocketed the retail price the consumer pays. So take away the physical cost of producing CD's, as well as distribution charges and "special" fees to get the CD's on an endcap at Best Buy or what not, and you've got basically a $5 margin anyway. All of the physical distribution fees are eliminated with digital album sales, so the market is adjusting to the real cost of production.

     

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  11.  
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    scarr (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 3:21pm

    Re: Ian Astbury disagrees

    "He's not ruling out collecting a bunch of those songs into some kind of album and makes clear that his views are in relation to the Cult more than anyone else."

     

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  12.  
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    scarr (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 3:26pm

    I think it would also help album sales if people could buy the remainder of an album for the remainder of the cost after buying a song or two. With digital files, the only overhead is an additional transaction fee, so why make people pay extra for completion?

     

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  13.  
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    bigpicture, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 4:12pm

    Probably Right

    You're probably right about the album quality thing, I have not bought an album in ages just because of that problem. "1 or 2 good songs and the rest is crap." This is probably a recording company marketing ploy rather than the musicians themselves. The musicians probably had a time limit contract to produce content for a whole album.

    When they release their own albums with their own schedule, they will not release until they are satisfied with content quality. And secondly if the downloaded album only costs $5.00, even if I only like half the songs I can dump the rest and still feel that I got value. Now for $20.00 that's a whole other story.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 5:05pm

    I buy albums from artists I really like. I buy individual songs from artists that I don't like so much but who have a few good songs here and there.

    What I don't understand though is why once you've bought a few tracks of an album on iTunes you still have to pay full price if you later decide to buy the whole album (instead of subtracting what you already paid).

    This is especially annoying for things like TV shows, where you might be inclined to buy the first few episodes to see if you want to buy the whole season.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 5:08pm

    full albums only

    i was wondering if this was one of those sites that sells _only_ full albums under some bullshit claim of artistic integrity. it's simply bundling, which forces you to pay for more than you might want.

    however, this site gives away singles for free... so their sales model is more like a total tip jar. i don't know if they use session variables or something to push you to pay if you download more than a song or two.

    i think the real difference is that this is a transaction where people are saying to themselves, "i'm happy to pay $x for this", whereas in the pre-internet model, the mentality was, "i can't believe i'm paying $y for this, but i have no other choice."

     

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  16.  
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    indeciSEAN (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 6:17pm

    Re:

    iTunes has a feature called "Complete My Album" which I've actually used once or twice......not sure why you haven't been able to do that and "subtract what you already paid" but it's out there in some capacity...or it at least was for some things at one point or another.

     

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  17.  
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    indeciSEAN (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 6:19pm

    Re: full albums only

    On Bandcamp the artist actually COULD set it so that they're willing to sell "by album only"...most people on there are obviously smart enough to have the variables, but it'd be easy to do on that site should someone want to say "you want my music, you buy ALL of it"...

     

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  18.  
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    TerpsFreak (profile), Jul 14th, 2009 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Full Albums Only

    Sorry, but there's not many bands out there capable of producing an entire album of material that I'm willing to listen to - much less pay for. Most albums are full of bloat and filler since the days when the labels used to actually invest in musicians - it was called artist development and today, that totally doesn't exist.

     

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  19.  
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    Mike, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 7:47pm

    Aritsts these days need to focus on the quality of their songs. For example, with hip hop, instead of telling a deep story with rhyme and rhythm, it's:

    "Hop up out the bed, turn my swag on, look in the mirror and say what's up. I'm getting money"

    Wheres the deep music?

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2009 @ 2:06am

    At $5 (or more likely $2 or $3) there is little money to be made pushing records. Pay the processing, pay the time to set it up, pay the time to record it, and what you have left (for most bands on this service) is likely beer money.

    I would find it way more interesting to see actual hard numbers for sales, how many bands actually sell more than a handful of records over there?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2009 @ 4:46am

    I am in the rarely buy albums anymore camp because as noted by several others, most albums today have one or two (maybe three, tops) good songs and a lot of filler. This isn't anything new; 90% of the LPs in my closet from the 70s and 80s are just as bad. Hell, even "Thriller" had filler on it. There are only two or three artists I'd buy a whole album from without hearing at least something from it first.

    Back in high school my buddy and I would listen to the B-sides of our 45s to see if there was anything any good on any of them. Out of a couple of hundred 45s I think we found two or three that were worth a listen. That's not surprising since record labels invariably would put the worst cut(s) from the album on the B-side of the 45s. Used ot be you could find some real treasure that way: Nat King Cole's version of "Mona Lisa" was on the B-side of some forgettable song that the record company thought would be a hit.

     

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  22.  
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    Alex Porteous (profile), Jul 15th, 2009 @ 4:50am

    I think it is something they are going to have to try out, but it will be difficult. It is often thought that by lowering the price of something you increase the sales but it must be a nightmare trying to find the tipping point where the lower price leads to higher profits.

    Personally speaking I tend to stream music from an artist I'm new to and if I like it (after a few weeks listening) I buy it. If the price was 50% or even 75% what it is currently then the relative value of album would improve and make it more likely I'll buy it.

     

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  23.  
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    rwahrens (profile), Jul 15th, 2009 @ 4:53am

    albums

    I am on the other side of the fence. I listen to Country, and few Country artists produce full albums of music that don't contain mostly filler songs.

    I'll keep buying singles as I like them until an artist I like produces an album that I feel deserves being bought that way.

    It's all about choice. If the price is right, and there's only one or two songs I don't like, I'll buy the album, otherwise, I want the ability to choose just the singles I want.

    If I am forced to buy an album, I'll walk away.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2009 @ 5:51am

    Re:

    I think the difference is that once upon a time albums frequently contained much more quality music and less filler, and now there may be one, two or even three decent songs and the rest is filler. From a marketing perspective, that approach kind of makes sense. Use one great song to pull a bunch of mediocre songs along. However, consumers quickly become jaded (which they are) and no longer buy albums.

    I have read several articles regarding the "death" of the album. Yet, I would only buy albums from groups like Porcupine Tree. Their music is so good (IMHO - if you like progressive rock) that each track fascinates me. I think there are many other groups out there who want every song to meet their artistic standard rather than filling up space on a CD.

    As for "Thriller," it has a couple of songs that many people classify as "filler," but all of the songs are listenable and as a "bundle" with "P.Y.T.," "Thriller," "Human Nature," and the other quality songs on the album, make buying the album more than worth it. That tended to be how albums from the late 60's and the early 80's were. Indeed, I have purchased CD's of the vinyl albums that were good from that era - and did not purchase CD's of the vinyl albums that had a couple of good songs and all the rest either filler or bad songs. For those kinds of albums, I tend to look for "best of" collections.

     

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