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Sony Says Raising Prices On Whitney Houston Music Was A 'Mistake'

from the ya-think? dept

Following the news that Sony Music raised prices on Whitney Houston’s music very, very soon after news broke that she passed away, the company has now said that it was a “mistake” and issued an apology:

“Whitney Houston product was mistakenly mispriced on the UK iTunes store on Sunday. When discovered, the mistake was immediately corrected. We apologize for any offense caused.”

Of course, that seems to raise more questions than it answers. What kind of “mistake”? Human error? Did someone just accidentally jack up the price? Or was it someone doing it on purpose… and Sony now thinks that his or her decision to do so was the mistake?

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Companies: sony music

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Comments on “Sony Says Raising Prices On Whitney Houston Music Was A 'Mistake'”

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86 Comments
ex el reg says:

The Register

Loads of websites seem to ignore bad news like this or good news depending on who is making the money.

They prefer uncommentable articles about how we need to shoot all pirates or at very least hang them as they are starving the Sony’s of this world of their god given right to squeeze until there is nothing left.

Question is will they refund those that paid the higher price?

Anonymous Coward says:

I read somewhere that she was broke.

Which would make the act of raising the price of that crap even more unethical, because it was going to show that the label was going all out to recoup what they “lost” financing a has been singer that couldn’t write her own songs, was a diva, drug addict that had no self control/respect.

I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that she died of overdose and the label paid for it.

David Muir (profile) says:

Here's a fun thought exercise

Why exclude Funeral Homes and Cemeteries from the calculation? ๐Ÿ™‚

Indeed, as copyright is extended and extended, the pool of content created by artists who are no longer with us will be bigger than the pool created by the living. If they ever get their act together and use technology to take advantage of “The Long Tail” like Amazon has… the content industry will undoubtedly make more off of the dead than the living.

Loki says:

Re:

Sony used to stand for quality 0 like 30 years ago.

After more than a decade of faulty batteries, installing rootkits on computers (then providing dialers to “fix” the rootkits), removing functionality from their consoles (then attacking their customers for trying to reenable the functionality the beleive they paid for), setting up fake “fansites” for their products, among a list of “missteps”, Sony proves yet again what a “classy” business they are these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

It could be as simple as a demand based price adjustment system gone wild.

Much of the older, back catalog stuff is in permanent discount, such that the wholesale price is reduced to try to encourage a little demand for it, allowing retailers to “sell it for less”. It’s just up from the bargain bin, if you like.

Then Whitney drops dead, sales instantly pick up (and they did), and the system goes “run on this stuff, pull off the discounts”. That removal of discount gets transmitted back to the retailers, who in turn move the album up from one price point to another.

Automation… it’s deadly at times.

DogBreath says:

All scammers know if you're going to make money off of tragedy, timing is everything

Are Sony and Apple to blame for Whitney Houston’s album price hike?

The particular 1997 album, The Ultimate Collection, was priced at ?4.99 (or approximately $8) in the Apple iTunes Store before Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m Pacific time from unspecified causes. At roughly 4 a.m. the following day, the price bumped up to ?7.99 (or approximately $12.60), leaving millions of fans who wanted to commemorate her death scrutinizing the music giants for attempting to profit off this global tragedy.

?The album itself is great so please don?t be put off purchasing it, just that you will merely be lining some fatcat?s pocket before Whitney?s lifeless body is cold,? a customer warned on the UK entertainment site DigitalSpy.

But was it all just an interestingly-timed accident? Apparently, when news of the singer?s death broke, Sony Music, which owns the rights many of Houston?s back catalog, was prompted to review its catalog of Houston?s albums. There, it realized its wholesale price of The Ultimate Collection had been incorrect in the first place. During this price change, the digital album became entirely unavailable for download for several hours, and when it came back online, the retail price had increased by more than 60 percent. However, since Apple technically has the responsibility of setting the selling price on the iTunes Store, fans are unsure of who to blame for this seemingly exploitative move.

Message to Sony and Apple from your customers: No matter how sorry you might claim to be, bad decisions will turn you into bad press magnets, and will not bring you profit.

Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

I can’t help but notice how this “mistake” only targeted Whitney music.

Even when a “mistake” at iTunes, when DRM was removed, was to set 3 tiered pricing and forgot to include the $0.69 option, it affected a variety of albums, not just a specific artist.

It’s unfortunate, as I truly did enjoy Sony years ago, but it’s things like this why my house now contains zero products from Sony.

Then again, what company doesn’t pull this crap anymore.

Great article on Cracked today.

DogBreath says:

Re:

Are “Pinky and the Brain” working at Sony? Because that certainly would explain a lot of the decisions coming out of Sony.

Pinky and The Brain Intro

Pinky: Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?
Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!

They’re Pinky and The Brain
Yes, Pinky and The Brain
One is a genius
The other’s insane.
They’re laboratory mice
Their genes have been spliced
They’re dinky
They’re Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain.

Before each night is done
Their plan will be unfurled
By the dawning of the sun
They’ll take over the world.

They’re Pinky and The Brain
Yes, Pinky and The Brain
Their twilight campaign
Is easy to explain.
To prove their mousey worth

They’ll overthrow the Earth
They’re dinky
They’re Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Narf!

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Spin

Actually, Sony didn’t consider it a mistake; just good business.

And now, a reading from the book of Stealer’s Wheel, circa 1973:

Got to get back to the telephone,
Make some money from a complete unknown.
I know everything that I’ve got to say,
I know ’cause I’m a good businessman.

I can make you rich, I can make you a name,
Promise you the world if you’ll play my game.
If you don’t want to play it, don’t bother me.
That’s why I’m a good businessman.

A good businessman, a good businessman,
A good businessman, a good businessman.

If I find that you ain’t got no trust in me,
Then it’s time to use my psychology.
I can change your mind, I can turn you around,
I know ’cause I’m a good businessman.

Let me tell you now, I don’t need your respect,
Seems to me there’s one thing that you forget:
I ain’t in this business to be friends with you,
That’s why I’m a good businessman.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your tin foil hat is leaking. Have you considered that given US dollar to British pound sterling conversion rates it could have been a mistake in converting the price? Suspiciously 4.99 pounds is approximately $7.90 US (which given the trend to price everything as close to a whole monetary unit without actually being at a whole number would put the price at 7.99.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course what happened is unseemly and opportunistic, but before tarring Sony it might be wise to consider that it is a company with several thousand employees worldwide, and that within any company there will always be those who seek to try and elevate their stature and advancement opportunities by taking actions they believe will get them noticed in a good way. Of course, what an individual believes may be good for him/her may be disastrous for the company.

If this be the case, the company is left with little choice but to engage in damage control, and then spend some quality “bonding time” with the person who created the mess in the first place.

I am not suggesting this is what happened, but I have seen it take place so many, many times that it may well be a logical explanation concerning this situation.

Hence, I would not be so quick to lay the blame at the feet of the company. The more important issue is how does the company respond to damage control and, if inside information can be secured, what happened to the individual with the “bright idea” that wasn’t. I would like to think that if an idividual pulled this stunt, the the “quality bonding” time would be accompanied with a suggestion that he/her might wish to consider other career opportunites elsewhere. Lawn maintenance, of even Jiffy Lube, quickly comes to mind

DogBreath says:

Spin

You’re right. They lie to the artists, so why not lie to the customers too? It’s what they do best.

This song perfectly includes all the standard lines (lies) the big execs tell all their artists, just before they are robbed blind.

Pink Floyd – Have A Cigar

Come in here, Dear boy, have a cigar.
You’re gonna go far,
You’re gonna fly high,
You’re never gonna die,
You’re gonna make it, if you try;
They’re gonna love you.
Well I’ve always had a deep respect,
And I mean that most sincerely.
The band is just fantastic,
that is really what I think.
Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?

And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it Riding the Gravy Train.

We’re just knocked out.
We heard about the sell-out.
You gotta get an album out.
You owe it to the people.
We’re so happy we can hardly count.
Everybody else is just green,
Have you seen the chart?
It’s a helluva start,
It could be made into a monster
If we all pull together as a team.

And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it Riding the Gravy Train.

Vic (profile) says:

So here is my question… The story says that it did so on the UK iTunes. Is it just me, or is the UK always getting the wrong end of this stick… From experience (I live in the UK and travel to the USA often) when this kind of crap happens, people in the US would all band together and issue a loud and resounding HELL NO… In the UK it is more like an individual whimper but the hand gets stuck in the pocket anyway… What is that about?

Vic (profile) says:

So here is my question… The story says that it did so on the UK iTunes. Is it just me, or is the UK always getting the wrong end of this stick… From experience (I live in the UK and travel to the USA often) when this kind of crap happens, people in the US would all band together and issue a loud and resounding HELL NO… In the UK it is more like an individual whimper but the hand gets stuck in the pocket anyway… What is that about?

Vic (profile) says:

So here is my question… The story says that it did so on the UK iTunes. Is it just me, or is the UK always getting the wrong end of this stick… From experience (I live in the UK and travel to the USA often) when this kind of crap happens, people in the US would all band together and issue a loud and resounding HELL NO… In the UK it is more like an individual whimper but the hand gets stuck in the pocket anyway… What is that about?

Vic (profile) says:

So here is my question… The story says that it did so on the UK iTunes. Is it just me, or is the UK always getting the wrong end of this stick… From experience (I live in the UK and travel to the USA often) when this kind of crap happens, people in the US would all band together and issue a loud and resounding HELL NO… In the UK it is more like an individual whimper but the hand gets stuck in the pocket anyway… What is that about?

Vic (profile) says:

So here is my question… The story says that it did so on the UK iTunes. Is it just me, or is the UK always getting the wrong end of this stick… From experience (I live in the UK and travel to the USA often) when this kind of crap happens, people in the US would all band together and issue a loud and resounding HELL NO… In the UK it is more like an individual whimper but the hand gets stuck in the pocket anyway… What is that about?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

You like snarky replies, I’ll give it a try. Obviously, you are familiar with the prices of ALL music on iTunes’ UK site otherwise you would be talking out of your ass to say that “every other album was done correctly”! So I am asking you directly for a report indicating all price changes that occured over the weekend. If for some reason you don’t have that information, perhaps you can ask your mommy for help, since your snarky comment reflects the maturity of a teenager, I assume you still live with her.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

But they are being held responsible. They are the ones who have to engage in damage control.

BTW, individual screw-ups are not limited to customers. If you work within a company think about how many times you have seen employees screwed by someone more interested in their advancement than the interests of the employees, all in the name of making a few pennies that cost dollars in terms of goodwill and employee morale.

Senior execs bemoan the fact that people with milliradian FOVs lose sight of the big picture.

DogBreath says:

Re:

It would be very sad if that happens because it would mean the son of SOPA also allows the copyrighting of facts too. Corporations make up a copyrighted song & video about their bad deeds and anyone repeating said words or video will get an automatic take down along with a sizable lawsuit against you.

Not because it wasn’t part of their plan all along… to take over the world… Muhahahaha!

DogBreath says:

Yes, but...

It worked for Tupac Shakur, as he now has released more albums dead than alive. The saying goes “you can’t take it with you”, but you can damn sure bet whatever you leave behind someone will find a way to make a buck or two of off.

I for one can’t wait to hear Whitney’s new albums that copyright allows her to continue to make, now that she is gone and has more incentive to create. /sarc

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

SOPA would not add to any of the provisions contained in 17 USC 106. Additionally, the Supreme Court’s decision in Feist long ago shut the door an “facts” being elegible subject matter under US copyright law. Unlike many countries in Europe (and perhaps elsewhere), the US has steadfastly refused to create a database right because such works lack “originality”, a necessary condition for elegibility under Title 17.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Couldn't it be . . .

. . . that there’s an automated system in use that automatically takes into account some measurement of news article appearances by an artist? If an artist starts grabbing headlines, for whatever reason (made a charity appearance, was a guest on Leno, got arrested – or, yes, even died), the interest in that artist goes up, which might support a price increase.

Perhaps it was as easy as that. Doesn’t change the awkwardness of having the price go up within hours of the artist’s untimely demise (though, with Houston, she was probably overdue), but doesn’t make it as callous and insensitive as it is being portrayed by the vast majority here.

But, I guesss it’s more satisfying to assume the label is a hearse-chaser….

HM

DogBreath says:

NYTimes reports "human error"

Insiders skeptical of Sony’s ‘mistake’ on Houston music prices

Billboard talked to someone from inside Sony on background who explained the price increase lasted for just a few hours and was due to “employee error.”

This sounds like the mistake was made by some low-level clerk who keyed in the wrong number. Music industry insiders told me that they such a scenario could have occurred.

Indeed, that’s not what happened. According to sources close to the situation, “the mistake” was made by a Sony Music middle manager who had the authority to change prices.

Maybe Sony should put HAL9000 in charge of pricing, then they’ll be no possibility of “human error”, unless they give HAL9000 conflicting orders and it kills everyone to keep the corporate bottom line price structure profitable over human life.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re:

Obviously, you are familiar with the prices of ALL music on iTunes’ UK site

A nice try – an attempt to broadly imply that there were many other albums that changed price as well as a sweep at implying that you are familiar with the UK ITunes site and know what you’re talking about. Except that even after the sweeping implication, the sarcasm and the pointless ad-homenim attack I still spotted, as I’m sure did many others, that you offered not one shred of corroboration. Also, since I bothered to read the link to the apology article, I find that:

Sony says it?s sorry it raised prices on two Whitney Houston albums at Apple?s U.K. iTunes store the day after the singer?s death.

and

Sony’s Statement:
?Whitney Houston product was mistakenly mispriced on the UK iTunes store on Sunday. When discovered, the mistake was immediately corrected. We apologize for any offense caused.?

You’d have thought they’d have mentioned a good excuse like a faulty exchange rate affecting multiple items and not just those two at that point wouldn’t you?
So I’m afraid your exchange rate “explanation” looks a little thin.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Gee

It’s not that uncommon to consider that artists are worth more dead than alive, nor do we know from your post the context that comment was made in. (This isn’t an attack, by the way, just that the idea is very common.)

That said, they raised the price in the UK, lowered it and are now apologizing. Probably with the same genuine tone of voice from the PR guy as he typed it and snickered.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Couldn't it be . . .

that there’s an automated system in use that automatically takes into account some measurement of news article appearances by an artist

I’m unclear to me how that would be less of a rip-off, though as you say somewhat less emotive. I’d also expect in that case to see an awful lot of planted stories to get people talking about somewhat forgotten artists as an excuse to jack the prices up, but perhaps that’s just me being cynical.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Music Industry Is Reverting to Type.

To understand the matter at the most basic level, we are shifting away from industrial mass-production technology to a post-industrial system, based on computers. In many respects, the post-industrial resembles the pre-industrial, as I have developed in a previous comment.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091210/0529417288.shtml#c431

If one looks back before the industrial revolution, there were big concert halls, but they catered to an upper/middle class audience.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111229/16024817230/us-box-office-revenue-finally-drops-not-because-infringement.shtml#c1079

But these did not cater to the working class. Music for the working classes was provided by street musicians, who, in the nature of things, could not be famous. There is the famous Gustave Dore print, circa 1860, of a bunch of little girls, dancing around in a circle, barefooted, in a London slum street, to the accompaniment of an organ-grinder, with a monkey on his shoulder. Working-class life in general was lived in the streets. The remote ancestor of McDonalds was a man selling baked potatoes from a little oven built into a handcart, which he dragged around with him. Under the circumstances, it was very difficult for a working-class person to possess celebrity. Working-class life was relentlessly driven down to the human scale.

There was one big exception– public execution. In the eighteenth century, the city of London might have hanged about a hundred people a year, some every few weeks, before an audience of thousands. Public executions were a popular entertainment on a large scale, with all the usual side businesses of a modern football game, such as selling food, drink, seating, and souvenirs to the audience. The condemned persons were taken in procession for a mile or so, from the prison to the gallows, and on this journey, they had their fifteen minutes of fame, or probably, more like an hour or two. The prisoners were given enough drink to be more or less drunk, and depending on their natures, they put on some kind of performance. The London Hanged were the ancestral rock stars. In the 1780’s, due to concerns about public order during the procession through the streets, the performance was scaled back. This was shortly after the Gordon Riots of 1780, in which a political march had become an outbreak of mass arson and looting (*). A new gallows was build on a porch adjoining London’s main prison, the Old Bailey, and this had the effect of scaling the performance back to a few minutes. Finally, in the 1860’s and 1870’s, executions were moved out of public view. That was about the time that the first phonographs began to make it possible for individual musicians to be famous. The classic literary representation of public execution was the Newgate Calendar.

http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ngintro.htm

(*) The Gordon Riots were at one level a working class phenomena, but the leader was a duke’s son, Lord George Gordon. The urban working class was not yet capable of generating its own natural leaders.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Riots

The recording industry is dependent on fame, not on music. When the recording industry comes under sufficient economic strain, with the collapse of the mass-market for sound recordings made by famous artists, it will tend to revert to its roots. We can see the beginnings of this when the fact of a rock star’s overdose or suicide, or whatever, leads to a surge in sales.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Couldn't it be . . .

Actually it does appear to have been a “human error” as in human decision to raise the price in the UK.

It is more satisfying to assume the label was hearse chasing, that’s true, but in this case it does appear that it was one middle manager who had the authority to do such things.

The spike in demand for her work will continue for a while yet so it does appear tasteless at best and “hearse chasing” at worst.

Sony’s being judged on their past record here and their contempt for their customers (consumers) not simply this incident. Perhaps that’s unfair but Sony paved this road and now their riding it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re:

But they are being held responsible. They are the ones who have to engage in damage control.

Right, and I’m saying that’s appropriate, and I’m arguing against the idea of not blaming Sony. We should absolutely blame Sony. Whether it was one low-level employee messing up or all the top executives doesn’t matter. Sony messed up, and the company is rightly being blamed for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Error??
The sony has the novel and movie albums WH hands.
Who benefits from her death?
Who is winning big with the death of Michael Jackson?
Sony
Sony kills the music, it was this phrase that MJ exhibited to his fan club in London.
The sony is desperate to for profit, as it is on his knees before the advances of which she does not participate, only accumulated losses due to their incompetence.
The sony is killing artists to steal your work.
The death of Michael Jackson is generating an extraordinary profit to sony, and Whitney Houston, with his death, the cashier will fill them.
Eager for profit, are worse than vultures, because they do not expect the “carrion” cool.

nasch (profile) says:

Price Fixing Anyone?

Given how the price went up on all the online stores across international boundaries, did they just not prove they are engaged in price fixing?

Not really. It’s perfectly plausible that all the online retailers automatically adjust their retail prices in response to a move by Sony. As long as they’re not colluding with the retailers, it isn’t price fixing.

Anonymous Coward says:

supply demand

This whole thing is being painted like it was immoral to raise the price. I don’t see anything wrong with it. And I generally find something wrong with almost everything.

It is a free market. The seller simply tries to maximize profit, which is exactly what they should be doing. If you (the buyer) are uncomfortable with the price, you can: 1. wait for price to come back down as demand dies, or 2. download the free version.

If I was Sony I would have left the price high and said, “Yes, we jacked up the price because of higher demand. As a company we always try to maximize profit.”

By trying to claim it was a mistake now, Sony has lost even more of my respect.

And Bill Clinton should have said, “Yes, I had consensual sex in the oval office.”

Why do public officials and companies always lie when confronted with something everyone knows that they did and that isn’t even close to as bad as the subsequent lying about it?

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