Friday, 29 October 2010

Money Money Money

When I bought my first vinyl LP as spotty youth back in 1970, it cost me the princely sum of £2 and at the time, I didn’t really stop to consider whether it was priced correctly – I just wanted it and bought it. So it comes as quite a shock to realise that £2 in 1970 is the inflation adjusted equivalent figure of £23 today. These days I wouldn’t even countenance paying that sort of money for a CD or download album despite being more affluent. In fact I would probably baulk at paying half that price…and possibly even a quarter.

It just goes to show how we have unconsciously absorbed the reduction in price for the music we buy yet still feel we are hard done by and will turn our collective noses up at product that in real terms has at least halved in price over the last 40 years. In fact, these days file sharing for free seems to be touted as a ‘right’ amongst some parts of the consumer market.

So I note with some amusement that ex-Warner Music UK boss, Rob Dickins, has decreed that albums should be sold at £1 each in an effort to combat piracy and encourage waning sales. Whoo-Hoo! Predictably, this has caused howls of outrage amongst the music industry who are still trying to keep a firm hold on their diminishing profits, but to me it seems eminently sensible. His argument is that file-sharers would be happy to pay a legal £1 per download rather than an illegal nothing and that the remainder of us would buy substantially more albums, thus recouping revenue for the industry and generating demand in other areas such as live concerts and merchandise. He may be right, but I suspect not. The sense that media should be ‘free’ is pretty ingrained in some parts of society.

Nevertheless, I see no defence to those companies still charging full price for albums produced in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s whose production costs have long been recovered. I’ve never understood why it is virtually impossible to buy Beatles albums, for example, for less than £10, a staggering 45 years after they were first released. It smacks of greed. I for one would undoubtedly buy more if prices were reduced considerably. It takes away the risk that you are about to spend good money on something that turns out to be the worse album ever produced – something that I’ve had enough of in the past.

Record producers say that they must charge to cover their risks, but what about the consumer? They shoulder risk every time they buy today’s ‘product’ as most of it is sub-standard. Reducing the price would alleviate buyers' risk and I’m all in favour of that.


Charlie said...

Martin, I couldn't agree with you more. My wife works with a guy who says it's "against my principles" to pay for music. He'd steal it whether it was £1, $1, or less. I guess that the company still charges a lot for The Beatles stuff because they can. It's supply and demand. It helps to make up for their lost revenues elsewhere. Good post!

Perplexio said...

A lot of this has to do with the record labels being so late to embrace the new technology. If they had been more pro-active and less re-active they wouldn't be in the situation they're in today.

I don't know that lowering the price is necessarily the right solution. Why not do more to actually make the CDs worth the asking price? Some CDs have done this, recent reissues of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for example are playable in both traditional CD format as well as DVD Audio format in 5.1 digital surround sound. Ben Folds Songs for Silverman was released as a 2 sided disc. One side featured the album in CD format, the other side featured it in DVD Audio format with some video footage (interviews, video taken in the studio during the albums recording, and an alternate version of the lead single from the album).

I've also heard of some albums containing software that allows the listener to make their own mixes of certain songs from some of the albums. That actually sounds pretty cool to me too-- give the listener a chance to play some "armchair producer" on their laptops.

To compound the issue the RIAA committed the ultimate PR blunder in trying to sue music pirates. Now I understand, in principle, why this was done. But in practice it was a PR disaster that caused a greater schism between the consumers and the recording industry.

music obsessive said...

Charlie - you're right about the supply and demand. It just makes us all fools for buying stuff at inflated prices. These days I'm far more selective about what price I pay.

Perplexio - Increasing the content is OK as far as it goes (the mixing idea sounds fun) but you just end up paying for a whole load of stuff you don't want. The CD single has sunk without trace because of this - who wants a to pay for a bunch of remixes when you can pay less to download just the song you want?

luminous muse said...

An important and interesting topic for discussion. It's beyond my brain to figure out a solution. I do know that I hate the concept of "free music." When they come for "free music licensing", believe me I'll be fighting on the front lines, cause that's how I make my living.

Looking at the big picture it's karma: record companies got greedy, took too much, now it's being taken away. Too bad musicians get hurt in the process.

music obsessive said...

Luminous - I, too, do not go with free music, but I could go with cheaper music for the reasons I state (that I would buy more). I already buy more single songs via download because they are less than £1 (just) and I don't have to part with £3 for a CD single with a load of additional and mostly unwanted junk on it.

But that is not to say I want free music - musicians have to eat too (but perhaps not record company execs!)

Paco Malo said...

I've been gritting my teeth over the issue you raise in your second to last paragraph for years. I just can't afford to experiment in buying albums. Cost-wise it's just too risky.

Further, I can't even buy new albums by artists I love because it would just be too expensive.

I don't know what the solution is, but your post at least gets the conversation started. Well done.

music obsessive said...

Hi Paco - thanks for stopping by. I understand your angst entirely. There is nothing worse than shelling out a load of dosh only to be disappointed. It is making us all conservative buyers. My main gripe is still the price of back catalogue, I'm not quite so angry about new product, after all it needs to be paid for.

At least the advent of internet sellers has dragged prices down.

YourZenMine said...

Like you, MO, we don't go with free music. We believe the artist deserves to be paid for their art.

However, record companies and the way they do business need a drastic overhaul, as do distributions arms. The recent demise of one of Australia's biggest independent music label, Shock, who also act as distributors for many overseas acts, is one such case. Not only have a lot of bands lost out, but so have a lot of company employees.

We used to go on buying sprees, taking chances on albums by bands we'd heard a couple of tracks from and liked. But the price of a CD in Australia negates us doing this any more. If music were cheaper, we'd definitely be buying more.

Good article.


music obsessive said...

Hi YourZ - 'Buying Sprees' Wow! I remember those, such fun. I still have to be manhandled to avoid browsing in music stores but these days I rarely come out with anything unless it's supercheap.

I think the consensus here is 'Yes, we'll pay for music but let's not be silly about it'?