Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alternate Takes

Mr. Lucky, Chris Isaak's first album of new material in seven year, is available at enough price points and configurations to confound a supercomputer. The distribution strategy appears to be one of making separate deals with individual outlets and then letting them handle to promotion and fallout. I've sorted through some -- and I emphasize some as opposed to all -- of the options simply to illustrate the bewildering array facing consumers. 

Let's start with the baseline CD, with no discount and no bonus tracks. In other words, what you would pay in a randomly chosen CD store not offering a discount for a newly released CD:

14 songs
Price before tax: $18.99
Price per song: $1.39

Now consider some of the alternatives:

2 bonus tracks
alternate cover
6" x 6" lithograph of cover
Price including shipping estimate: $24.96
Price per song: $1.56

From Borders:
Baseline CD, discounted
Price: $15.99
Price per song: $1.14

From Walmart:
Baseline CD, discounted
Price: $11.88
Price per song:  $0.85
Note: According to Walmart's web site, Mr. Lucky is not available for order on-line and is in stock only at selected stores.

Configuration #1
Baseline release
Price including shipping: $12.97
Price per song: $0.93

Configuration #2
Download baseline CD
Price: $10.49
Price per song: $0.75

Configuration #3
Download baseline CD plus three bonus tracks
Price: $12.99
Price per song: $0.76

Other Amazon Options:
Baseline CD
Price: $12.23-$27.89 (import)
Price per song: $0.87-$1.99
Note: Imports often have 1-2 songs not on the standard U. S. version, so the high end price per may be a few cents lower.

From iTunes:
Configuration #1
Download baseline CD
Price: $10.99
Price per song: $0.75

Configuration #2
Download baseline CD plus four bonus tracks
Price: $13.99
Price per song: $0.78

Unless you badly want the lithograph and alternate cover, I don't know why you would do otherwise than download from or iTunes. If you don't have an mp3 player, you'll want to track down the most discounted price at the most convenient location, factoring in any qualms you may have about buying from Walmart. 

Now, think about this pricing and distribution model in terms of health insurance. This is essentially the approach conservatives recommend to seniors for purchasing health insurance, but with infinitely higher stakes, ever more puzzling options, and finer fine print. Just how is this more preferable to Medicare? Inquiring minds want to know...

From Offbeat: Funeral plans for Snooks Eaglin have been announced. There will be a visitation for him at the Howlin' Wolf Friday (tomorrow) from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., a service from 10 to noon with music by Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Deacon John, then a second line with the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Senior Division of Young Men's Olympia Brass Band. After that, there will be a repast, and Eaglin will be buried at Providence Park Cemetery (8200 Airline Dr. in Metairie)...

Quote of the Day: 
"It's much better to give someone roses before they go, baby." 
-Antoinette K-Doe


John Hayes said...

Hi K:

Really interesting breakdown from the standpoint of: what the heck is the recording industry trying to do with marketing now. They just can't figure it out anymore.

Re: Quote of the Day-- there's an old Carter Family tune called "Give Me the Roses Now," in which the chorus goes:

"Give me the roses while I live
Trying to cheer me on,
Useless the flowers that you give
After the soul is gone."

K. said...

The model is confused, to say the least. Looking at it, one has to conclude that buyers are being channeled away from CDs to downloads. Except that the labels hate downloading because of the smaller margins.

The supposed incentive to purchase the CD -- superior fidelity -- goes away when you consider that after the disc has been ripped, the standard output device will be a pair of $20 headphones. Anyway, the average home system isn't high end enough for the superior fidelity to make it worth the extra cost of a CD.

I have a high-end system and I download quite a bit -- the value is too good. I still prefer classical and jazz on CD, but otherwise I have to have good reason to think that the fidelity will be good enough to justify the CD purchase. And even that dwindles if the download version offers enough bonus tracks. Look at the above: Why pay $15.99 for 14 songs when $13.99 buys 18 songs?

It's even more puzzling when you consider that the CD versions of most releases have the capacity to include the bonus tracks anyway. I just might pay $15.99 if I'm getting the same 18 songs to go with the superior fidelity.

All I can figure is that Apple and Amazon have the labels by the short hairs. Not that I'm weeping for them.

K. said...

P.S. Thanks for the Carter Family reference!

John Hayes said...

K: I tend to agree with you on the fidelity issue, tho a lot of my musician friends don't-- they swear by vinyl. On the other hand, they have mp3s on their myspace pages. I listen to mp3s & wav files in music editing programs & while there's a difference, you're also right that you need the equipment to hear the difference, & most folks don't have it.

K. said...

I suppose that if you have a $5K turntable with a $2K tone arm and a $1K cartridge, there's an advantage to vinyl. People who prefer vinyl swear that the sound is warmer, and I have no reason to doubt them. But I sure like the durability and capacity of CDs and downloads. And I wonder whether current production techniques account for digital coolness, thus rendering CDs the more "natural" media. Dunno.

One thing that's undebatable is the impact of CDs and downloads on live recordings. But that's another blog entry!

K. said...

I've been thinking about this. If you accept the argument that the CD version always sounds better, then the consumer is forced to choose between quantity and quality.

Scrumpy's Baker said...

After my sweet husband purchased a DVD for me, only to realize he had not gotten the version with the extended cuts I really wanted; I decided this is a ploy to try and confuse you into buying at least two copies of the same thing.

K. said...

You have point. Unfortunately, when it comes to recording labels, you can't be too cynical about their motives. I am enjoying the CD.