Rap Artists Wu-Tang Clan Fight Infinite Goods By Selling One Copy Of Their Next Album… For $1 Million

from the if-you've-got-the-front-rent,-who-cares-about-the-back? dept

There’s a lot of discussion at this site about new business models for artists to combat the tendency of infinite goods (digital files) to bring the market price down to as near zero as possible. Seminal rap act Wu-Tang Clan has gone in the opposite direction. Instead of operating around infinite goods, the group is opting to release its next album in an extremely finite quantity.

Somewhere on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault housed beneath the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, there sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box with the potential to spawn a shift in the way music is consumed and monetized.

The lustrous container was handcrafted over the course of three months by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, whose works have been commissioned by royal families and business leaders around the world. Soon, it will contain a different sort of art piece: the Wu-Tang Clan’s double-album The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, recorded in secret over the past few years.

Like the work of a master Impressionist, it will truly be one-of-a-kind—in lieu of a traditional major label or independent launch, the iconic hip-hop collective will make and sell just one copy of the album. And similar to a Monet or a Degas, the price tag will be a multimillion-dollar figure.

Rather than allow the market to decide how much the album is worth, the Wu-Tang Clan has circumvented that process by predetermining its going price (which eliminates a whole lot of the “market”). But it’s not a terrible idea, provided it’s able to sell this literally one-of-a-kind album. Securing $1 million up front (and without a label) for an unheard album will allow the group to recoup its costs in short order, rather than having to rely on a slower flow of income. It may work for a group that has achieved nearly legendary status over the course of its career, but it obviously isn’t the sort of thing that would work for many recording artists.

But this isn’t the only revenue stream. The Clan has another offering that will put even more money in its pockets, but it’s also one that could possibly undermine the million-dollar sale.

According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range.

Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”

The group says this is an attempt at “reconsidering music as art.” That’s the kind of statement that punches the right buttons for creators who feel the internet has robbed them of the ability to make a living, but it’s ultimately as substance-free as any other justification for charging a steep price for infinite goods. This is the sort of statement you can make when a $1 million payoff assures you of success even without album sales. This won’t force a reconsideration of music by the general public. This will only put the new album into the realm of the unattainable, which makes it a luxury good, rather than an artistic statement.

But all in all, it’s not a terrible plan. If the album leaks beforehand, some well-heeled fan may still pick up the tab to get the only legitimate copy of this album, along with its handcrafted storage case. If, by some miracle, the album is purchased and never leaks, someone out there will own the best-kept musical secret of all time. But chances are, the album will make its way to the internet eventually, even if leaks are prevented. People love sharing art, even if they paid $1 million for it.

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Comments on “Rap Artists Wu-Tang Clan Fight Infinite Goods By Selling One Copy Of Their Next Album… For $1 Million”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: not thinking this through. ..

Is he selling the copy’right’ to the album? I think the point of the OP is that this is not what he’s selling. He’s selling the first album. and if he wants to and the first album doesn’t leak he can sell the second one for another million maybe.

I see nothing wrong with such a business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: not thinking this through. ..

What he can do is say this

I’ll sell the first album for a million dollars or whatever I can get. For at least a month you will be the first buyer to hear it unless you yourself leak it. If you don’t leak it then I will sell/auction another album for a million dollars or whatever and there is no guarantee on this second one. If that doesn’t leak then I will auction a third one, etc…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: not thinking this through. ..

Another possibility is that they could sell the first ten official copies of an album to the first buyer for a million or whatever they can get. The first buyer can then keep one and sell the remaining nine or whatever.

They can optionally tell the first buyer that they will give them a year or so to decide what they want to do and if it doesn’t leak they will sell a second ten copies or whatever release it to the public or whatever. Or they can just sell the first ten albums and let the buyer decide what to do. If it does leak it leaks, it’s under a CC license or whatever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 not thinking this through. ..

They can sell the first ten to ten different people all for a million dollars but insist that the first ten be sold simultaneously. No selling one after the other, either all ten albums are bought at once (either by the same person or by a number of different people) or the album isn’t sold at all. Those ten people can then split the cost of the million dollars if they wish so that each can receive one copy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Missed it by that much

They don’t get it. Either the songs suck and their only hope is to keep everyone from hearing them until some sucker buys the album.

Or the album is good. In which case they are better off letting the songs leak. The value is in the physical one of a kind album. Not in the music itself.

They should sell usb sticks with mp3s of the songs at the showings. Enough people would buy them even if all the songs are available on the net to make it worth while.

anon says:

Re: Re:

I was looking through the comments to see if anyone suggested this. A Kicstarter or other crowdfunding project would be great for this, all profits supporting some really good case and I would almost be in.Imagine having people pay 50c for a digital copy and $1 for a CD or something along those lines, but i am sure that even for 1 million they will not give up the copyright, which is a shame as this would be a great idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

So if the record or cd gets scratched the buyer is pretty much screwed
, if WuTang opens the doors to record companies and offer it to them first it could be a brilliant move if they are allowed to make copys of the work that is, If not it’ll be leaked because the major studios need it to fail to keep the dated business model they love so much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Does that $1 million come with distribution rights?

The question is does it come with exclusive distribution privileges. If so then the sale of the album is almost the same thing as if they had just sold it to a record label. They are allowing anyone to be their record label and have exclusive ‘ownership’ over it. The record label then deals with distribution and licensing from that point on. I would think the whole point of the OP is that this is not the case but if it is then that sorta defeats anything to celebrate about in terms of advancing culture for everyone and finding alternatives to copy’right’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Geez, finally some band understands “infinite” goods in a way y’all have been arguing for for years and you still shit on them. Iguess you really do just want everything for free.

As has been said here many, many times – when making an album, it’s the first copy that is the expensive one. These guys just had the balls/smarts to charge what it’s worth.

This just shifts the risk from some faceless record company you are going to hate no matter what to one or more fans. Hell, it might be a good investment if you can figure out how to make $1 million redistributing an album these days.

If people still paid for music instead of pirating it, everybody could get this album for 15 bucks at Best Buy. And the artist would be compensated roughly in proportion to actual sales. But thanks to this wonderful new world it’s possible nobody will ever hear it and the artist will get compensated some arbitrary figure not at all related to how many people like their album. What a tremendous optimization and improvement in the market. Good work everybody!

anon says:

Re: Re:

If all content creators did this they would eventually have no fans, so they would not be able to sell the 1 million albums. It all still boils down to the fans who have made the Wu tang clan famous, the band is just monetizing their fame and making money on the back of their fans, who are not getting access to the content. This album is worth 1 million I agree, probably more, in fact, which shows how much the middleman actually receives.
This is a sad day for fans and a sad day for music, but whon can blame them when they have enough money in the bank to play games like this.

Grizzly says:

Re: Re: Re:

An album could be worth that much, or more. If the person who buys it has the rights to distribute it, he would do it if he felt he could make enough of a profit off each subsequent sale to make more than his million dollar investment.

A lot of it depends on who the entertainer is. Is Wu Tang Clan really that popular? If you had this kind of deal for someone like Elton John, it would be a no-brainer.

bobby b says:

How does this differ from simply taking a set one-time fee from a distributor in exchange for the entire album?

I assume the new owner can devise her own scheme for marketing and selling (and getting paid for) songs off the album to whomever wishes to pay that new owner’s chosen price.

This nicely lays off the Infinite Goods risk onto a distributor, in exchange for throwing a hard cap (of $1,000,000.00) on the artist’s net price.

RJ (profile) says:


Can I just point out that WTC may in fact have as a condition of sale, that the album (or parts of it) must be made available to the public at a price of >= $0 w/in some time frame? The excerpt quoted in this post only states that “the iconic hip-hop collective will make and sell just one copy of the album”

I guess what I’m saying is that a future public leak may in fact be an intentional feature & not just left up to the buyer’s whim…

Ninja (profile) says:

I wonder, what’s the point of having such album locked in a single disk? I mean let’s suppose a wealthy but not so caring person buys and decides that “sharing is caring” is for lame people. Suppose the disk remains locked. Now, what we know from human culture is what was spread wide. What was unknown to many remained unknown unless some crazy ass Indiana Archaeologist Jones stumbled upon some hidden stash of such things and made them known. Other than that I don’t see a point.

Still the marketing campaign seems just about right. I would release the content on the net if I went nuts and bought that.

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