Lots of services, not much choice.

monkey businessPurchasing music online? Ever wonder why certain songs are labeled as ‘Album Only’?

If you have an account on any of the popular music download services you will notice selected tracks labeled as ‘Album Only‘, meaning that you can’t buy them individually, only as part of the entire ‘album’. So who’s in control of this activity? the artist, the record label or the distributor?


Consumer choice verses artistic integrity?

Large record labels have a range of digital-release strategies designed to optimize revenues. They want you to buy the entire album, they don’t want users to ‘cherry pick’ the best tracks. Some will argue this approach is about maintaining artistic integrity, it’s not just the record labels who demand restricted sales. For instance, Pink Floyd only want you to download their entire album, not individual songs. Some argue that they have a right to these demands. I’m not going to argue with a band that has sold over 200 Million albums. They consider their albums as a single piece of art, that’s their choice. The likes of AC/DC, Led Zepplin and The Beatles take the same approach. So you won’t find those bands on iTunes. According to figures this approach doesn’t affect their album sales.

However, I’ve come across many remixes and compilations containing tracks marked as ‘Album Only’. In certain cases, I own most of the tracks already. I’ve had to buy a bunch of tracks that I already own, just to get two tracks marked as ‘Album Only’. It’s a rather frustrating experience. I now refuse to buy any releases that are sold this way. I’ve seen Emusic and other distributors lambasted by users for selling music in this way. Write a note to the record label, in these cases they are in control of this ‘Album Only’ option, not the distributor.

Billions of track sales but not that much profit

Even though iTunes is credited with pioneering the uniform 99 cents a song pricing model, they still get up to skullduggery with track pricing. After doing further research, it appears iTunes automatically marks all songs over 10 minutes long as ‘Album Only’. Most distributors and shops allow an opt out, but not with iTunes. In this particular case, it seems artisitic integrity has nothing to do with it. Apple has said it makes little profit from iTunes because of the costs of running the online store. iTunes had a cash turnover of $4 billion last year and are just a minimal profit-making lure for prospective iPhone and iPad customers. I wonder will the upcoming Google Music offer more choice and give the artists a fair cut of the sales? Is it just a lure for prospective Android customers and a gap filler in the Google portfolio. Let’s wait and see.