I was in the Virgin Megastore the other day. They have a bunch of CDs by the Who “on sale” for $14, marked down from the list price of $19! These are 30-year-old albums. These are the same CDs I bought 10 years ago at a small chain for $9. They’re going to charge me 50% more and tell me they’re “on sale”? I don’t understand how they can expect anyone to swallow this. No wonder CD sales are declining.
Jay Sharp pointed to me to part of the problem. One reason that CDs are so expensive is that the five distributors (which together handle nearly every artist) and three major retail chains illegally conspired to fix prices. The states filed a class-action suit and the record companies decided to settle for about $143 million. Who gets all this money? If you bought music from a retail store between 1995 and 2000, a piece of it is yours. All you need to do is file your claim before March 3rd and they’ll mail it to you. Depending on the number of applications, the payout will be up to $20 a person. If the payout drops below $5, they will donate the money to non-profits instead of mailing the checks, so don’t tell too many of your friends.
The industry isn’t nearly as worried about this suit as it is about CD copying and online file-swapping. There has been a lot of talk about the effect new technology will continue to have on the music industry. In a series of columns, Robert X. Cringely explored some of the industry’s options. In the third and final column, he presents some of the most sensible commentary I’ve seen yet. Here’s an excerpt:
Music must follow that model, produce new entertainment that by its nature is impossible or difficult to rip, and that treats their new work as a fading asset and front-loads their compensation into the first few months. … What is unrippable is live new music at concerts, or a mix of old hits and new music with the emphasis on performance – on being there. DON’T sell CDs of new music at a concert. Sell CDs of older stuff, but make buying a ticket the only way to hear a new song in the first three months. After that comes the CDs, then radio, then residual sales by Internet or at concerts for impulse sales. This is analogous to movies, which appear first in theaters, then pay-per-view, then home video, then cable TV, and finally free TV.