Music Retailers Flip Out That Prince Wants To Give Away His Music

from the it's-madness! dept

For years, some have been saying that the real problem holding back the music industry from embracing digital distribution hasn't been the record labels so much as the record stores. In fact, in the Rolling Stone article about the suicide of the recording industry, one of the key stumbling blocks was that the music retailers threatened the record labels if they embraced digital distribution such as Napster. So, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that music retailers are spitting mad over Prince's plans to give away his latest album. Prince has actually been on the cutting edge of new music business and distribution models for many years, so this doesn't come as much of a surprise. What's interesting, is that he's actually linking two troubled industries: recording and newspapers in a way that helps both. His latest CD will be available for free with a newspaper in the UK -- and the newspaper is thrilled because it's going to seriously increase circulation for that week. This is a perfectly reasonable idea: it adds value to the newspaper and makes it a more worthwhile purchase, while at the same time getting Prince a lot of attention and many more people hearing his latest works (which opens up many more opportunities for him to make more money through concerts, back catalog, merchandise, appearances, sponsorships, etc.).

However, the music retailers are freaking out that someone else might distribute music instead of them. Apparently they haven't been paying much attention to all that online distribution of music that goes on these days and the fact that the business model of the traditional record shop is pretty much dead and buried. Instead, they blame Prince for actually getting more fans to hear his music. "It would be an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career," claimed one. Another said: "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores." Of course, that's the funniest one, since it's pretty clear that Prince has already realized he's better off without the record stores. Then there's the head of HMV: "I think it would be absolutely nuts. I can't believe the music industry would do it to itself. I simply can't believe it would happen; it would be absolute madness." Basically, what you're reading here is an industry in complete and total denial over the fact that their service (delivering plastic discs to willing buyers) is a business model that's increasingly obsolete.

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  1. identicon
    Benefacio, 3 Jul 2007 @ 3:31pm

    Re: History lesson

    Well, I guess you would call this Ancient History then, since it predates any sort of recorded music other than written sheet music. The first sorts of music promoters that I recall were called patrons. Wealthy Patrons hired musicians to play just to have it known they can hire musicians to play, for the most part. Some realized that free access to popular musicians could be used for private business deals; using free to enhance the value of something else. They then realized that giving access to musicians could be profitable in its own right and opera, concert and music halls blossomed. Record labels are just an expansion, an evolution of this process.

    I agree, independent artists are not doomed, but they do have a much harder row to hoe, so to speak. The more time you spend promoting yourself the less time you have to play music. Word of mouth will only take you so far and at some point musicians are faced with the choice of professional promotion or going it alone.

    The benefits and pitfalls of professional promotion are the same now as they were 20, 50 or even 100 years ago. Professional promoters are not going to go away and neither are the professionals hired to represent them, like the RIAA.

    Record stores and radio stations are just another link in a long supply chain that delivers access to musicians, as well as other types of artist. The ones that fail are the ones that forget this and buy into the false belief that they are about selling plastic storage devices. People buy access to musicians and the music they play, NOT un-usable plastic storage devices. Blank plastic storage devices are a totally different market.

    Manufacturers that ignore problems in their supply chain don't seem to stay in business very long.

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