It’s now been just over a month since Apple flipped the switch at the iTunes Music Store and gave the major labels what they wanted: higher-priced hit singles.
Since April 7, downloads at the world’s largest music retailer have varied in price–from 69 cents for hundreds of low-profile catalog tracks to $1.29 for best-sellers, both new and vintage. For most observers, the question has been what effect these changes would have on what remains of the music industry, and, to a lesser extent, on Apple’s bottom line.
But I’m equally interested in how it might affect Billboard‘s Hot 100.
You can’t figure this out by looking at the top of the chart. One song, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow,” has been No. 1 that entire time. And for reasons that remain, aesthetically, a mystery to me, it seems that people will buy it at almost any price (it was 99 cents its first week on sale, $1.29 thereafter). Nothing has threatened the Peas’ dominance, priced at 99 cents or otherwise.
Instead, to really get a sense of it, you have to look at a hit that’s in the middle of the pack: big enough to matter, but modest enough to provide a useful test case. Let’s give it a shot, by comparing two tracks by new acts that were, respectively, the fastest-rising sales hits of March and May–just before and just after the switch. And while these songs emerge from different sides of the pop spectrum (quite literally), they’re both youth-oriented, seemingly viral in their chart rise, and kinda dumb. More »
The latest update to Nine Inch Nails’ iPhone application has been rejected by the content czars at Apple. Why? Because it contained “obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials”–namely, “The Downward Spiral,” which is one of the songs on a podcast that could be streamed to the application. As you might expect, Nine Inch Nails main man Trent Reznor has some thoughts! More »
Here’s an elevator pitch for cash/idea-strapped music video channels, courtesy of the blogosphere: “You know what would be amazing? If say, MTV or VH1, or Fuse partnered with iTunes to make ‘albums’ of their Top 10/20/50 countdowns. The weekly ones and the ones that are themed (like, Most Influential Songs of the 90’s or whatever). Then you could buy the countdowns (videos, or audio) like you would albums.” I also like the idea of doing this in reverse, with one of those channels giving up a chunk of time to a show that counts down iTunes’ top albums, or even music videos. Hey, it’s at least a little more legit than VH1’s street-team-abused Top 20 show, right? (Yes, that’s still on! I know!) [mover&shaker] More »
Let’s imagine that in 1992, just after Nevermind peaked, Dave Grohl took a break from Nirvana to form Foo Fighters. I mean, why not? Grohl was a gun for hire, at least the sixth drummer to sit in with the band before they finally broke big. And let’s say he scored some of those juicy Foos radio hits right away: “This Is a Call,” “Big Me,” maybe “Monkey Wrench” too.
And then imagine he came back in ’93 to Nirvana in time for In Utero, making them even bigger than they already were—not just reliable album-sellers but the kind of band able to score regular Top 40 radio hits. Grohl would be transformed, from Kurt Cobain’s potent-but-silent sidekick, to coequal band focal point.
It’s a little hard to imagine for all sorts of reasons, not least the fact that Grohl was too respectful of Cobain to form his own project until both Kurt and the band were dead and gone. But the scheduling is also fanciful—who has that kind of time, to get a successful solo career going while keeping up with a best-selling group?
The fact is, it’s exceedingly rare for a successful side project to not only coexist with the original group but bring that stalwart act to new pop-chart heights. In fact, in chart history, it’s only happened three times (really, more like two and a half).
The third of these three acts is this week sitting atop Billboard‘s Hot 100, in the form of the Black Eyed Peas*. “Boom Boom Pow” is, oddly, the act’s first No. 1—but it’s gun-for-hire Fergie’s fourth. More »
It’s hard not to like Record Store Day, the homage to the indie record store taking place this Saturday. Lots of limited-edition merchandise will be on sale; bands will play in-store sessions; and the Record Store Day brand will take over the retail space at Coachella that was formerly held by Virgin Megastore. Someone saying “New Order 7-inch” is about all it takes to get me to throw my support behind any sort of function or event, but Luke Lewis at the NME takes a look on the other side of the fence.
In a move that lots of people talked about—because this is the Internet and people have nothing better to do than discuss than the business practices of companies they have nothing to do with—iTunes last week instituted a variable pricing scheme whereby songs could go for more (or, presumably, less) than the $0.99 base rate they had been set at since the service’s inception. Shortly after the inception, some songs saw their price rise by thirty cents, to $1.29, prompting recent Billboard hire Glenn “Coolfer” Peoples to write an article about what effect the change had on the songs’ rankings in the iTunes charts. His conclusion: the hike resulted in a loss of sales, as the songs lost an average of 5.3 places on the charts two days after their price rose. While the general reaction seemed to be that this showed the higher prices to be a bad idea, the conclusion isn’t quite so straightforward.
When the iTunes Store introduced variable pricing earlier this week, 60% of the songs in the store’s top 10 had their prices hiked by 30 cents; as of this writing, eight of those 10 tracks are now priced at $1.29, with Kid Cudi’s “Day N’ Nite” and Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” seeing price increases over the past two days. (Thanks, America, for keeping the top 10 pretty much static so a fair comparison between then and now can be made!)
Sir Mix-A-Lot‘s ode to ladies’ larger-than-life posteriors “Baby Got Back” is now being used to sell kiddie meals for Burger King, with the help of SpongeBob SquarePants and the masked Burger King who’s been a staple of the fast-food emporium’s commercials since the subservient chicken era. How did a song that was seen as kind of racy when it was first released make the evolution to kid-testedness and motherly approval? Come with me as I take you on a Flash video-aided ride through “Baby Got Back”‘s hold on the world’s consciousness.
Apple’s iTunes Store launched its variable pricing for music today, where certain songs will have their prices pumped up by 30 cents to $1.29. (Other songs will have their prices slashed to 69 cents.) A glance at the store’s top 100 songs shows that about one-third of the best-selling tracks have had their prices inflated—a number that includes the store’s top two songs as of this writing, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” and Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face.” I’ll be checking back during the day to see if the inflated prices of those two songs results in their floating down the chart (or if the still-99-cent levy one has to pay for “The Climb” helps it out at all), but for now, here are a few other factoids I noticed about Day One of Apple’s experiment with economic theory:
We’ll find out on April 7, when Apple’s digital-music store iTunes starts selling select tracks—read: tracks that have already proven to be worthy of peoples’ money, like the unkillable Flo Rida/Dr. Luke collaboration “Right Round”—for a buck twenty-nine. Sure, other songs that reside on the deep end of the Long Tail will have their prices slashed, but most of the attention on iTunes’ introduction of variable pricing is focusing on the songs that will get more expensive, because those are the ones that are currently popular with iTunes users. Whether or not this “premium pricing” will affect the longer-term chart prospects of the likes of “Poker Face” and “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” is still up in the air, but my guess is that it’ll probably result in a lot of rending of overpriced garments in major labels’ boardrooms starting, oh, April 8 or so.