Price Manipulation

The music industry has been making noise about the 99 cents price tag on iTunes songs being unfair to them and ….to their artists. Joel has a great exploration of the real reasons they’re pushing this.

Now, the reason the music recording industry wants different prices has nothing to do with making a premium on the best songs. What they really want is a system they can manipulate to send signals about what songs are worth, and thus what songs you should buy. I assure you that when really bad songs come out, as long as they’re new and the recording industry wants to promote those songs, they’ll charge the full $2.49 or whatever it is to send a fake signal that the songs are better than they really are. It’s the same reason we’ve had to put up with crappy radio for the last few decades: the music industry promotes what they want to promote, whether it’s good or bad, and the main reason they want to promote something is because that’s a bargaining chip they can use in their negotiations with artists.

Here’s the dream world for the EMI Group, Sony/BMG, etc.: there are two prices for songs on iTunes, say, $2.49 and $0.99. All the new releases come out at $2.49. Some classic rock (Sweet Home Alabama) is at $2.49. Unwanted, old, crap, like, say, Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) — the crap we only know because it was pushed on us in the 70s by paid-off disk jockeys — would be deliberately priced at $0.99 to send a clear message that $0.99 = crap.

And now when a musician gets uppity, all the recording industry has to do is threaten to release their next single straight into the $0.99 category, which will kill it dead no matter how good it is. And suddenly the music industry has a lot more leverage over their artists in negotiations: the kind of leverage they are used to having. Their favorite kind of leverage. The “we won’t promote your music if you don’t let us put rootkits on your CDs” kind of leverage.