Yesterday’s New York Times had a story on how AC/DC is standing up against the digital age: The band is putting out Black Ice via brick-and-mortar outlets only next week, with Wal-Mart getting the CD exclusive and indie stores being allowed to sell it on vinyl. Angus Young told the Times that his band’s resistance to going digital was rooted in the idea of iTunes selling chunks of albums instead of full-length records: “It’s like an artist who does a painting… If he thinks it’s a great piece of work, he protects it. It’s the same thing: this is our work.” Well, someone in the chain of getting the album to stores didn’t quite get the memo on AC/DC’s analog ways, or maybe they just found it hypocritical that AC/DC was OK with selling single songs as ringtones, but not as 99-cent downloads, because Black Ice leaked last week, and according to estimates, it’s been downloaded some 400,000 times from BitTorrent alone.
That estimate doesn’t include downloads from third-party sites like Rapidshare, which was definitely used to acquire at least one copy of the album (cough, cough). Sure, this experiment is helped by AC/DC’s catalog is still selling relatively well; last week, Back In Black scanned 9,200 copies, landing it at No. 2 on the Pop Catalog chart (it would have placed in the mid-60s were it still on the Billboard 200). Perhaps because of this staying power, Wal-Mart has apparently guaranteed that the album would sell 2.5 million copies–not only would that be a drop in the bucket compared to the BitTorrent numbers, it’d be a big uptick from the not-even-platinum scans of 2000′s Stiff Upper Lip, and a ballsy move in a miserable climate for people wanting to spend money on essentials, let alone CDs. But apparently the Arkansas megachain is the place for fans of Angus and his mates to shop:
Although AC/DC was criticized by religious groups in the ’80s for songs like “Highway to Hell” (which is actually about the difficulty of life on the road), the band is so popular at Wal-Mart that the chain was responsible for half the band’s sales last year, according to Columbia. The retailer is setting up special areas devoted to AC/DC in each of its stores, where it will sell the band’s albums, DVDs and “Rock Band” game, as well as a selection of T-shirts and other clothing. At a time when music stores are closing, the band says the Wal-Mart deal makes sense.
Indeed, Wal-Mart is the only place for many people to find copies of new albums these days. But will that exclusivity even matter to consumers when they’re nervous about scrounging up the cash for that week’s meals, and when a free copy of Black Ice is only a Google search away?