There are tons of stories about how the iTunes Music Store is killing the album/CD business because everyone is buying singles (go search on Google News if you want to read one of the stories). In order to combat this, labels are locking popular singles and requiring people on iTunes to purchase the whole CD to get the single that they want — this probably makes people go steal the music and doesn’t engender a whole lot of good will towards the artists or record labels. Furthermore, labels want to charge a lot more than $0.99 for top singles in order to recoup what they are losing in full album sales.
Here’s the simple fact of the matter: if record labels were scouting talent and investing in and backing artists that could produce more than 1 good song, people would do the math and probably buy a CD.
I’m already from an older era (and I’m not really that old) where I am used to hearing one song and buying the entire CD. I used to buy CDs at Tower during high school — CD singles that had between 1 and 3 songs were usually $4.99–$5.99 and the whole CD was usually $9.99–$11.99, so it made sense to me to just spring for the whole thing.
When iTMS launched and all the CDs were $9.99, I was perfectly happy to pay $9.99 for the whole CD — I figured that I was saving the record company production and distribution costs, so it made sense for a constant $9.99 price.
Today I went to download the new POD album on iTMS — I liked the last POD album, so I figured that I would check out some of the 30 second clips on some random songs and, based on those samples and the songs I had already heard, I would probably just buy the whole album. Unfortunately the album is priced at $13.99, which is probably exactly what the CD would cost at any retailer. A little disenchanted, I went to check out the new Yellowcard album — the last album that I bought from them was $7.99 on iTMS — and found that it was $11.99, which, after listening to some of the songs, didn’t seem totally worth it.
Here’s what’s going to happen: the record labels are going to cause me to turn into a consumer of singles rather than a consumer of full albums. Sure it will be a little difficult for me to change my buying behavior, but I bet it won’t take too long — chances are good that I’ll probably even wind up saving a bunch of money over the course of a year. Oh, and by the way, I haven’t heard a single in a long time that was worth $2.99.
Bob Lefsetz has one of his rants on this very issue and if you’re interested, you should read what he has to say.