Best of the Week…

November 19, 2005

iTunes is the best thing to happen to music in years but some disturbing news is bubbling up from the annals of the music industry : They are concerned and focused on profit!!!! Now, I am not one to "hate on" industry, business, or profit motivations because I realize that it is essential for progress in any field, but I am a tad concerned with this story. Red Herring (via Stereogum) reports that itunes is considering raising their infamous and groundbreaking .99 cents a song and subsequently their whole album charges of 9.99. While resistance from Apple has been steady, the major music industry players (namely Warner Music Group) are pressuring the provider stating that the dollar per song price is "unfair to the music industry."

Some songs should be $0.99  and some songs should be more. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that the $0.99 is a thing of the past," said Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman.

This begs the question, however, of how a song will be determined as more valuable than another. It’s obvious that somehow, the more popular songs will be more expensive and the less popular songs will be judged as "worth less" than others. This doesn’t necessarily bother me considering that most of the music I listen to would probably qualify as "less popular" but it still raises an interesting dilemma. How will Apple decide what is popular and what will it be based on? Will it be based on CD sales? The number of magazine covers the specific artist has? The amount of times the band has been name-dropped on the OC? How can we determine what is popular in order to price a product when that product isn’t on the market? Or will the songs be tiered up as sales increase, to model a depletion of supply in simple Supply/Demand economics? Will this lead to more piracy, more conventional CD sales, or will this prove to be a smart move for itunes and the major record labels?

It’s uncertain whether this will have any real effect on the musicians that make the music. In fact, for indie bands that may not have major label support, and consequently the high prices that go along with it, it may be a good thing. The bargain of a dollar a song compared to the 2.50 for that new Ashlee Simpson joint is obvious. But still, I fear that with this growing and essential part of choice in music, the ease and relative inexpensiveness of itunes will be lost.

Digital music is still a minor player in overall CD and music sales in the United States, representing only about five percent of the market, but its growth has been steady and impressive since its conception. This stands to only retard that growth or at least segment it to mirror stale radio play-lists.

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