Headbanger’s Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.
As some of you already know, honorary metalhead Lady Gaga’s new Judas Priest-looking album Born This Way came out this week. Amazon offered the album for 99 cents the day it was released, then after technical problems annoyed some of the people trying to download it, did the same thing again yesterday. What we’re debating this week is the following: does releasing a blockbuster album for 99 cents devalue music?
Bram: I definitely think it does. I don’t want a return to the bad old days, when Sam Goody, Virgin and Tower raped customers for $18 for a CD. But in a post-Limewire age where iTunes and Amazon are teaching consumers and music fans that recorded music has value and is worth paying for, I think this is a step backwards. Especially when we’re talking about Lady Gaga, as big a superstar artist as there is right now. She’s popular enough that people probably would pay full price for her album.
Zach: I have a hard time saying this is devaluing music entirely. If this deal was done for an entire week through multiple retail outlets, or done weeks after the album first came out, then yes, it absolutely does devalue the music (in the same way that selling concert tickets for $10 after a month tickets first went on sale). But offering an album on the day of its release for 99 cents for only 24 hours is not such an awful promotional idea. Yes, Gaga has thousands of fans willing to buy the album for full price. But there are also music fans who otherwise wouldn’t buy the album at all otherwise, including me. And considering that she’s been gaining interest among many metal fans thanks to her public affection for Iron Maiden as of late, I’d argue that I’m not the only metal head curious to give Gaga a listen.
Where Amazon screwed up is by holding the sale again. Making it a onetime deal creates excitement and would bring in enough interest. But by extending it to another day, I’d agree that not an expectation for similar deals has been implemented.
B: So just because she appreciates metal, you’re going to buy a dance record? Hmm. OK, well aside from that, it’s actually less about Gaga and more about Amazon trying to lure people to their cloud service. According to her manager, they didn’t even know about the sale. Amazon is paying the standard rate to the label and taking a big loss (about $7.40 per album according to this article). At least for the time being, anyone that buys an album at Amazon gets 20 gigs of free storage on their cloud service. That to me says that Amazon could care less about any kind of music, as long as it gets listeners to try their cloud music service (and pay $1/gig per year to keep it there). It’s a preemptive grab to get users before Apple launches their service. But the larger point is that there’s millions of people that have actually started paying for music again, and now they’re essentially being told that they shouldn’t pay more than a dollar for it. Fuck the labels – there are a lot of musicians that are depending on making a living, at least in part, from people buying the art that they’ve created. I’m not saying that music is worth $20 per disc, but I think there’s gotta be a middle ground somewhere.
Z: What I meant was not that I wanted to buy a Lady Gaga album because she’s a metal head, but that a lot of fans might be willing to give up a dollar just to check out what all the hype is about after hearing her discuss about her love for Iron Maiden. Buyers (including a lot of metal fans) who aren’t familiar with Gaga’s music don’t necessarily want to buy a full Gaga album (or track for that matter). But seeing that it’s only a buck, it might attract newer fans to give her a shot. Then they might end up getting into the singer.
But you’re right, it is more about Amazon trying to promote their cloud music service than about Gaga or any other musician. And I’d be more inclined to agree with you that Amazon was lessening music if Amazon started offering other new releases for 99 cents nonstop. But at the moment it’s just one artist who will still be drawing in sales. That to me says that it’s not that they don’t care about music, but simply Amazon trying to ensure that they can become a heavy competitor in the music industry’s future. And sure, people’s buying habits are slightly starting to show improvement, but sales are still pretty crappy.
But let me ask you something, Bram. Amazon regularly offers certain full albums for only $5. Would you argue, Bram, that this is also devaluing music?
B: Not necessarily. I think $5 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for music. Note that the albums they offer aren’t new ones. By the time they do offer the albums in question, I’d assume that people are familiar with them, either through sampling enough of them online or having downloaded it for free. If someone really likes a band or an album, they should have no problem throwing down a five spot for it. And yeah, sales are crappy, but if sales are increasing, that’s showing some people are getting conditioned to buying records. My main point is that the real fans will buy music anyway, but if the casual fans, the people we really need to interest in buying music again, think that an album’s only worth 99 cents, they’ll probably download it for free if it’s more than that – even if it’s only $5.
Z: But isn’t selling older albums for $5 creating a similar mentality that charging 99 cents is? Granted, $5 is a reasonable price, and as a active music buyer I think it’s a great deal. But to me, it seems like a similar issue with Ticket Master selling tickets to tours like Ozzfest for only $10 for a whole month. Now if this special deal was given to fan club members during a pre-sale time, then I’d say this was a cool way to honor fans. But the fact that they did it pretty much a few weeks after the shows went on sale only made fans who bought tickets in advance feel gypped and taught them to wait for a better deal before purchasing tickets. Isn’t this $5 deal just teaching fans to wait for a better deal/price before buying the album in its first week?
Now back to the 99 cent argument. I stand by saying that the sale is a solid way to attract new fans and users for both Lady Gaga and Amazon’s cloud service. But the key is that it should only be a onetime thing. With that said, I’d also admit that it shouldn’t be a new model applied for every artist. It’s similar to why the “choose your own price” model only worked (somewhat) for mainstream artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Not every artist can attract as much attention or sales as Gaga (in this day and age, probably only a handful if that could be put on the same level of popularity as Gaga currently). If Amazon applied this same technique to multiple artists and for more than 24 hours, then yes, I would agree that Amazon devalues the artists. But I wouldn’t say that Amazon selling Gaga’s new album THIS week for just 99 cents devalues music as a whole.
B: I think the concert thing is different. You’re getting the same experience when you go to a concert if you pay $50 for a lawn seat or $10. An album is something you want to be part of first, especially if you like the band. It’s the same way that if you want to buy a year-old video game, it’ll cost 1/3rd of what it cost when it came out. You can buy an iPhone for $49 now, but it’s the same one that cost $199 when it first came out. But in owning the first iPhone 3G, you were a trendsetter that had the newest, flashiest most exciting thing. Everything eventually gets cheaper if you wait, well, except for wine.