Record Labels Skip Apple’s iTunes – WSJ.com
Some in Music Industry Say the Online Store Crimps Overall Sales
By ETHAN SMITH and NICK WINGFIELD
August 27, 2008 6:29 p.m.
ITunes has been the runaway hit of the music business, selling more than five billion song downloads since it started five years ago. But a growing number of record companies are trying to steer clear of Apple Inc.’s behemoth music store, because they think that in some cases it’s crimping overall music sales.
Kid Rock’s “Rock n Roll Jesus” album was kept off iTunes’ virtual shelves. It has nonetheless sold 1.6 million copies in the U.S. since its release last year a sizable number for the depressed music industry. Sales of the album have increased in 19 of the past 22 weeks, according to Nielsen SoundScan, vaulting it to No.3 on the Billboard 200 sales chart. After witnessing the album’s performance, his label, Warner Music Group Corp.’s Atlantic Records, last week yanked an album by R&B singer Estelle from the iTunes Store, four months after it went on sale there and the same week that one of its songs entered the top-10-selling tracks on Apple’s download service.
Avoiding iTunes runs against the conventional logic of the music industry, where it’s now taken as an article of faith that digital downloads will eventually replace CDs. But there is growing discomfort with the dominant role iTunes already plays: The store sells 90% or more of digital downloads in the U.S., according to people in the music industry. At the start of this year, iTunes become the largest retailer of music in the U.S., surpassing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., according to research firm NPD Group Inc.
Label executives, managers and artists chafe against the iTunes policy that prevents them from selling an album only as a single unit. ITunes, with few exceptions, requires that songs be made available separately. Consumers strongly prefer that, though Apple also typically offers a special price for buyers who purchase all the songs on album.
Some artists see their albums as one piece of work, and don’t want them dismantled. Their handlers believe they can make more by selling complete albums for $10 to $15 than by selling individual songs.
“In so many ways it’s turned our business back into a singles business,” says Ken Levitan, Kid Rock’s manager. Mr. Levitan says the rise of iTunes is far from being a boon to the industry; instead, he calls it “part of the death knell of the music business.”
Maybe I’m old school, because I always buy the full album, rather than just a smattering of singles … in fact, oftentimes, I find that the “single” is not the best song on the album; not the one that most represents a band.
For example, currently, one of my favorite bands is Augie March (with many thanks to Ari for the introduction) … their biggest “hit” single is the song “One Crowded Hour”; but by buying their albums, I was able to discover such other wonderful songs like “The Cold Acre” and “Victoria’s Secrets”.
By buying Eels’ Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, not only did I get “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)”, but I got “Ugly Love” and “Things the Grandchildren Should Know” as well.
Of course, I also get a lot of music from eMusic.com which emphasizes more independent releases, not just alternative rock and punk, but alt-country, classical, jazz … everything. If it’s not on a major label, there’s a good chance it’s on eMusic.com.
In fact, if you click the eMusic.com link above, or on the banner to the right (if displayed), you’ll be able to try it out and download 25 songs for free … and beyond that, there are various low monthly subscription rates. Me? I’ve got two 100-song subscriptions at $24.99/month each … because I’m a complete music junkie … I don’t expect any of you to go to that extreme.