Is Kid Rock selling a hundred thousand CDs a week because his album is not available on iTunes?
Last year, Jay-Z famously refused to sell his new album at iTunes because he thought it would break up the flow, that it needed to be heard as a whole. Despite being available digitally at Amazon, as a full album only, "American Gangster" debuted strongly and soon fell down the chart. Was this the lack of hit singles or the refusal to be on iTunes?
Conventional wisdom is iTunes makes up approximately 30% of overall sales. It’s certainly the largest music retailer in America. But, you don’t have to buy the whole album, you can purchase only the track(s) you want. Therefore, Katy Perry has a giant hit single and sells very few albums. But is that because people believe she’s only worth the single? That she’s not a career artist? Or could it be that Katy Perry appeals to a young demo that has only known MP3s/iTunes/P2P, and only wants the single? Would Katy Perry be better off if you could only buy her complete album? Or, to put it another way, is her audience smart enough to steal just what it wants, or if there’s only an album available, will people buy the album?
I’m thinking if Katy Perry’s "One Of The Boys" was only available as a complete package, she would have sold more albums. Because hit songs engender impulse purchases. You don’t debate whether to fill out your Neil Young collection with "On The Beach", you want "I Kissed A Girl" now, you want to hear it now. And, the more casual the purchase, the less incentive there is to steal. If you only buy a couple of albums a year, why bother stealing? Why waste your time?
And, if you steal, you could get a nasty virus. Or be busted by the RIAA. You could have a friend e-mail you the MP3, or burn you a copy of the CD, but maybe you want your own, maybe you want to look at the pictures.
This does not mean the free transferability of music isn’t hurting sales, it’s just a question of how do you maximize sales now.
And, by maximizing sales now, do you kill the artist’s career? And help kill the sale of recorded music?
The public may be ripped off, but they remember. They remember overpriced CDs with only one good track. This is an incentive to steal. So, are there short term gains and long term losses? Furthermore, as a result of digital and iPods are we living in a singles world anyway, and is the album doomed?
But, if thirty percent of sales are digital, you don’t want to leave that money on the table. Which is why almost every act has made a deal with iTunes. Even Metallica and Led Zeppelin. But, is it helping them?
My sources tell me that overall sales of Metallica and Led Zeppelin are up since their tracks became available on iTunes. But, is it pent-up demand?
How much pent-up demand is there? Seemingly every kid has the greatest hits of Led Zeppelin on his hard drive already.
It seems reasonable that if you’ve got a catalog, are a career artist, you should be on iTunes. If for no other reason than all of your catalog is available. Unlike at most big box retailers.
But here we have Kid Rock burning up the chart, with the number 4 album last week, after 43 weeks on the chart, and "Rock N Roll Jesus" isn’t available as digital files online whatsoever.
I’ll say that Kid Rock fans tend to skew older.
I’ll say that Kid Rock is perceived to be a career artist.
I’ll say that people believe Kid Rock is capable of putting out a complete album that is good.
But I believe the number one reason that Kid Rock’s CD is flying off the shelf is because it’s a hit in multiple formats. Not only is it number 6 on the Mediabase Top 40 chart, but it’s number 15 on the Country chart! Mr. Ritchie is the beneficiary of 6216 spins on Top 40, where his track "All Summer Long" has been a chart feature for 12 weeks. He got an additional 2550 spins on Country, where he’s been on the chart for 6 weeks.
We know Top 40 sells product. But records stay on the Country chart even longer. And statistical analysis will tell you that the proportion of downloads to CDs is much lower in country.
So, what we have here is a multi-format smash. In a nation where many people have never even heard what’s number one on Top 40, this is incredibly significant.
By the way, Jesse McCartney’s "Leavin’" is number one on Top 40. Are you familiar with it? I’ll tell you I’m familiar with it, but I’ve never heard it. And I don’t care if I hear it, Jesse has never impressed me previously, and I’ve written him off. So many of the Top 40 wonders are just that, one hit wonders. With manufactured singles that have more to do with the producer than the artist.
But country is different. Sure, producers are powerful and performers often don’t write their own material, but artists have three-dimensional identities, which their fans support.
You think everybody knows what you do, is interested in what you are, but we no longer live in a monoculture. If you want to sell a lot of anything, you’ve got to spread the word far and wide. However, you risk burning out the core audience in the process.
But Kid Rock has got a summer anthem. It’s not just another track. I’d say his sales would increase with iTunes presence. I say selling product only as albums online pisses people off.
But, Katy Perry has got this summer’s number two song. And she’s in a completely different category from Kid Rock. She’s a newbie. She’s a phenom. Her sales are driven by both impulse and hysteria. Still, she’s not the Jonas Brothers, she doesn’t have a full-fledged identity, people only want the novelty single. But, if they were forced to buy the complete album… But then you’ve got to go to a physical retailer, and physical retail is shrinking. Oh, you can buy the CD online, but most kids under twenty don’t have credit cards.
I’m not exactly sure whether withholding product from iTunes would generate short term revenue for the Top 40 wonders. But, I will say, it’s a digital world. With singles ruling. It’s only going to get worse. Better to look forward than back.