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September 4, 2003 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Music label Universal to lower CD prices. Is this move a bit like raising a white flag? (via Curlio)
posted by msacheson (47 comments total)

 
Good first step. Next they could try pushing some real music and not this pappy regurgitated crap you hear everywhere.

Kids these days.
posted by xmutex at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2003


In other news, MP3s are still free.
But hey, it's a step in the right direction.
posted by Outlawyr at 9:32 AM on September 4, 2003


I went here to see who was on Universal. A cursory glance tells me that they may actually get some of my hard-earned dosh soon. Ossem!
posted by black8 at 9:32 AM on September 4, 2003


In the exerpted story, an unnamed "record executive" said, "It remains to be seen what this means for the specialized retailer of CDs."

It means they'll be able to widen their profit margin a little and make a little more money to pay rent. Beyond that, not much, unless the other major labels follow suit.
posted by me3dia at 9:32 AM on September 4, 2003


Probably too little too late. The only real way out for the music industry, IMHO, is to institute unlimited downloads for a monthly price. Move from the "units sold" to the "service" model. Anything else is trying to avoid the big white elephant in the middle of the room called "existing technology available to all".


Say this measure works well for them. Will they ever admit they were wrong all this time by blaming the p2p evil? Not likely.
posted by magullo at 9:33 AM on September 4, 2003


But what about the artists?!? They're going to starve because we aren't paying as much for CDs!
posted by zekinskia at 10:00 AM on September 4, 2003


The stock price for rival label EMI has been dropping in response to Universal's announcement. Price wars on the way?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:09 AM on September 4, 2003


This is excellent. It's nice to see someone do exactly what I've been hoping for. If retailers cooperate, I'll be beefing up my collections of Universal artists.
posted by frykitty at 10:10 AM on September 4, 2003


From what I understand, most arist's contracts stipulate that they get a fixed amount per CD. It doesn't change the amount of money the artist's get if a retailer sells their CD for $10 or $20, save that they might get more money because more people buy their CD at the $10 price tag.
posted by nakedelf at 10:11 AM on September 4, 2003


magullo: That's cool. And then each label would have to compete to offer the best music for its subscribers... so they'd have to treat their bands like sports stars, since the right band will draw the crowds to the labels. Falling subscriptions would mean falling interest/quality of music. Hmmm...
posted by VulcanMike at 10:13 AM on September 4, 2003


It's a scam. They'll be able to point to their continued flagging sales and say that obviously piracy is killing them. ("After all, what more could we do?")
posted by five fresh fish at 10:27 AM on September 4, 2003


Will this be a prelude to copy resistant CDs I can't play on anything but hardware that runs some DRM/WMP file? If so, it doesn't matter as I will not purchase hobbled delivery mechanisms and I'll continue to buy only non-RIAA music.
posted by infowar at 10:35 AM on September 4, 2003


nakedelf:
That's all nice and good for people who already have contracts. The next round of new bands to sign will either have to be big enough of a threat to walk (like when White Stripes signed their unheard of contract) or they will get screwed. The record companies need to pass that loss of profit onto someone else and who better than the artists (in their opinion, not mine)
posted by Jeffy at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2003


Say this measure works well for them. Will they ever admit they were wrong all this time by blaming the p2p evil? Not likely.

If this measure works for them, it might actually validate their claims that P2P hurts sales. I mean, P2P is free, right? So if they move closer to free, and succeed, how does that invalidate their claims?

If we define "success" as higher sales/profits and lower P2P usage, then you're right, they will have egg on their faces for sure.

I hope this sets a precedent. I'd actually love to go back to buying albums. But to be honest, it's been so long since I've bought any, that I was shocked to read they were bringing prices DOWN to about $13. People are really paying $19-20 for CDs? Fuck me runnin'...
posted by scarabic at 10:43 AM on September 4, 2003


In slightly related news.
These posters suck.
posted by cinderful at 10:54 AM on September 4, 2003


What I want to know is where are the federal laws protecting the business of steam engine manufacturers? These internal combustion engines have been unfairly cutting into their profits for years now and those poor guys get no protection at all from the government!
posted by badstone at 10:56 AM on September 4, 2003


Somehow I doubt these price reductions will translate into less pounds per CD. Since they can afford to sell at those prices they are clearly ripping me off by charging the equivalent of $20 for a new CD in the UK. I've never used p2p before but I'm tempted to go and do so right now.
posted by biffa at 11:05 AM on September 4, 2003


badstone -- to say nothing of how automobile manufacturers are being cheated out of precious sales by mass transit!

Guess they're not paying enough to bribe politicians. They should watch the RIAA more closely.
posted by clevershark at 11:09 AM on September 4, 2003


None of it will matter if the TCPA gets into play.
posted by bwg at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2003


Outlawyr: In other news, MP3s are still free.

So are real CDs if you steal them. (Btw, so are cars, stereo equipment, computers...)

Though UMG only has a couple artists I like, I think it's an okay move. I couldn't care less what their motives are.
posted by dobbs at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2003


MP3s are free, but as my grandfather used to say "Free as in crap." I've downloaded a few MP3s, but usually under two categories: 1)I want to hear samples of an album before I buy the CD and 2)There is no way to locate the CD I wish to purchase (If anyone has ever heard any Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine or AMQA send me an email!) The record companies do need to change their business model to reflect the current environment, but they don't need to walk away from the 'brick and mortar' record shops. Companies should create a way to download music and sell physical product cheaper.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:53 PM on September 4, 2003


They're still hosed.

With P2P mechanisms, anyone can download any song they want from any band they want. With broadband, it's almost instantaneous. The quality isn't terribly great, but it's ok, and the file type is very versatile and contains no crippling DRM. Even if you want it on a CD, with modern computers and broadband, it is almost certainly faster to download a CD and burn one than it is to go to the store and buy it.

They want people to give up all that, and buy a primitive, vulnerable physical storage medium for a price which is still exorbitantly high. Then, sometimes they tack on copy protection mechanisms, so it doesn't work in a lot of people's equipment or computers, the most important place I'd want to use a CD.

They'll never succeed. Even if both mechanisms cost exactly the same, downloading is so incredibly convenient that it would end up replacing CDs anyways.

The only way they could survive at all is to offer the convenience of the first method with a price, which might get enough people to prevent their destruction. This method would rely on people's good will and honesty to keep them in business.

However, I don't think they'll have a great deal of success guilting people into buying their music, because a great segment of the population views the entire music publication industry as being so incredibly evil and corrupt that putting them out of business would be a virtue.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:03 PM on September 4, 2003


I'm fine with lowering prices, but it still is over 10 bucks, and it still is too high.
posted by woil at 1:26 PM on September 4, 2003


Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine CDs? Try the bargain bin.

Anyway, I think reducing the price of CDs is the right thing to do. They should've done it 10 years ago, but better late than never I s'pose.

But how come there never seems to be a shortage of people complaining that labels rip off artists, and there also never seems to be shortage of artists chomping at the bit for the opportunity to be ripped off by a label? As I see it, this is an ecosystem that deserves itself. But it does beg the question -- what if someone started a record label and nobody ever signed?
posted by spilon at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2003


attn elwoodwiles
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:50 PM on September 4, 2003


Even if both mechanisms cost exactly the same, downloading is so incredibly convenient that it would end up replacing CDs anyways.

Can't agree with you there. I'd like to see CDs make a cheap comeback for the following reasons.

cons to downloading as we know it:
1) incomplete or incorrectly named files
2) disparate naming systems for files means file organization hell
3) disparate quality of files out there, all generally at some lossy level of compression
4) songs stand alone, "album" entity has to be reconstructed if you want it
5) no cover art, lyrics, messaging from artist. I like supplementary materials for the same reason I like shows: they help give you some sense of who the artist is, where the music comes from.
6) running out of space on hard drive faster than you think

I guess for number 6 I could always (DOH!) burn a CD.
posted by scarabic at 2:02 PM on September 4, 2003


There should be a huge drop in the demand for cocaine following this move.
posted by mecran01 at 2:26 PM on September 4, 2003


Hmm.

1) incomplete or incorrectly named files

A hazard, but ultimately one that can be easily overcome, by downloading additonal copies after discovery.

2) disparate naming systems for files means file organization hell

...or organizational heaven, if you like to construct your own organizing structures. And you can change the filenames as often as you like to conform with improvements or variations in your chosen framework.

3) disparate quality of files out there, all generally at some lossy level of compression

True. Most stuff is 128, but I find that it's pretty good, overall. If you've got the time and space, 320 is pretty widely available.

4) songs stand alone, "album" entity has to be reconstructed if you want it

personally, I think most people don't consider albums in totality, most bands don't create album entities, and those that do tend to suck. Pink Floyd did it best, imo, and even they were spotty.

5) no cover art, lyrics, messaging from artist. I like supplementary materials for the same reason I like shows: they help give you some sense of who the artist is, where the music comes from.

available on websites and in magazines.

6) running out of space on hard drive faster than you think

the hardest one. But with the proliferation of home networks and the continual lessening of dollars per megabyte for disk space, this problem will similarly lessen.

Or you could burn a CD :D I typically keep about 400-500 songs on my laptop, and offload the rest to CD/RW's, plus burns for in the car, on the plane, etc. where a laptop would not be feasible.

On topic? Lowering prices in the face of decreasing demand is a time-honored business tactic - but they still fail to take into account that it's not their competitors that they're up against anymore. Pandora's box is open now, and $10 CDs aren't going to close it back up. Magullo's right - they've got to retool for a service model, and fast.

It's just too easy, and not nearly enough like actual stealing, for people to stop. Instant gratification, no one physically *loses* anything, and a thumb in the eye of a big business that's been screwing people over for decades? Shit, it's almost a duty to download music from a p2p.
posted by UncleFes at 2:38 PM on September 4, 2003


inpHilltr8r: Thank you.
What scarabic said. No, wait, what UncleFes said. I'm so confused.
*Humms 'Is wrestling really fixed' and wanders away*
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:42 PM on September 4, 2003


In other news, MP3s are still free.

So are real CDs if you steal them. (Btw, so are cars, stereo equipment, computers...)


Except, as people keep pointing out, and other people keep not hearing, the person that you're "stealing" from loses nothing.

If I had a magic machine that I could point at a car, stereo, or computer that would create an exact duplicate of that item without affecting the original, why would I not use that? Don't you think that an economy that actually took new technology like that into account instead of desperately clinging to obsolete practices and regulations might be slightly healthier than one that didn't?
posted by majcher at 3:53 PM on September 4, 2003


If I had a magic machine that I could point at a car, stereo, or computer thatwould create an exact duplicate of that item without affecting the original, whywould I not use that? Don't you think that an economy that actually took newtechnology like that into account instead of desperately clinging to obsoletepractices and regulations might be slightly healthier than one that didn't?


I can't imagine why anyone would continue to create new products when anyone could duplicate it for free. What happens to the engineer that designs the car or the auto worker that puts the car together? What do you plan to do when people have no jobs because they'd never be compensated for anything they create?
posted by gyc at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2003


Well considering you can get anything you want by pointing the magic machine at an original it sounds like a true artist paradise. Food, clothing, shelter overhead and no lousy 8-5 job to support your creative habit. And when you get right down too it a lot of engineers have as much of a monkey on their back as any artist. Look at the success of a lot of open source projects. All because of an itch that needs scratching.

The sheer joy of going out into the workshop and crafting up a custom tool to solve a personal problem is one of the great wonders in life.
posted by Mitheral at 4:44 PM on September 4, 2003


majcher, we keep hearing you, but believe it or not hearing != agreeing. difficult concept, i know. as for "not losing anything"... yeah, right. except potential revenue (ie their livelihood).

Don't you think that an economy that actually took new technology like that into account instead of desperately clinging to obsolete practices and regulations might be slightly healthier than one that didn't?

i have no problems with new technology. i have close to 80 gigs of mp3s on my 2 computers and ipod and over 100 cds burned with them. but, now, get ready for it... they weren't free! i paid for them.

you see, i think the artists who make music i like deserve to be able to keep doing so. i think that making good music is job enough for anybody. i think that if they can do that, they DESERVE my money. (i know... call me crazy.) i think that they shouldn't have to wait tables, do odd jobs, or whatever the fuck else artists have to do to be able to support themselves until they can make a "living" doing what they love. with your model, they never get to that point.

i expect to be paid for my hard work. i think musicians deserve that as well.
posted by dobbs at 4:59 PM on September 4, 2003


Artists don't deserve money any more than there is a right to profit enshrined in the Bill of Rghts. I'm so freaking sick of the idea that artists deserve to make a living at what they want to do. Yeah, I'd like to make a living painting pictures or playing with Reason on the weekends while getting stoned, but that doesn't mean I deserve to make a living doing it.

Furthermore, the magic machine, like free energy is a paradigm shift fundamental to not only economic reality, but moral foundations as well.

What galls me the most is the act that if such a machine were possible people wouldn't even attempt to explore the ramifications, but rather destroy it out of fear. To say that people would quit creating is an affront to one of the unique qualities that is to be human.
posted by infowar at 5:21 PM on September 4, 2003


Artists don't deserve money any more than there is a right to profit enshrined in the Bill of Rghts. I'm so freaking sick of the idea that artists deserve to make a living at what they want to do.

Fair enough, inforwar; but that just the same as saying that no one "deserves" money.

If you expect artists to be able to make decent art, you have to expect that for most of them, they have to be able to make a living at it too. Perhaps not all, but most. If you only want amateur art, of course, that's fine. But art takes time, and very rich patrons and government grants aren't plentiful. You might imagine that it works out for most talented people to have a "day job" they care little about, and pour their soul into their well-crafted painting or jazz or crackling good mysteries at night.

But it doesn't -- good work takes TIME. It's true that many of us do burn the candle at both ends, making a living and making something we love. But almost all of those people do this with the hope that one day they can do what they want, full time.

I'm the first to say that the recording industry is a house of thieves. But the artists still, as far as I'm concerned, have some rights -- and I can't steal from the music execs without stealing from a lot of other people.
posted by BT at 6:31 PM on September 4, 2003


artists deserving money or not is a completely different issue than whether those standing on the hands^Wbacks^Wshoulders of said artists deserve that selfsame money.

also, p2p is not quite the panacea to end all panaceas...I had to spend hard-grafted currency buying something from unnamed-evil-auction-behemoth-company recently, since it was less than available for dl.

additionally, I do not personally dl music, mainly as a quality issue. if I want the convenience of some mp3s or ogg, I will rip and encode it myself (lately only from non-RIAA bands, yay me).

(of course, I'm an absolute whore when it comes to dling jdorama and the like...)
posted by dorian at 6:48 PM on September 4, 2003


I can't imagine why anyone would continue to create new products when anyone could duplicate it for free.

You mean like Apache, Ghostscript, OpenOffice.org, KDE, Gnome...
posted by five fresh fish at 7:11 PM on September 4, 2003


Clarification: I am not sure what the right/ethical position is regarding downloading music -- there are too many different situations to consider to parse it simply. I know that most people of my acquaintance who have a lot of downloaded MP3s also have a ton of legally purchased music -- and that there is no simple answer to the question of how many copies of a song I can make and distribute before I am materially affecting someone else's ability to earn a living.

Or maybe there ARE simple answers to those questions -- and I just don't know them.

My sole point was: anyone who thinks you can pull apart art and commerce (fuck the commercial bastards and let those crazy artists do their thing for the love of it!) is maybe not attending to the reality of either life or creative production. If that "paradigm shift" is in the offing -- well, it isn't here yet.

Also, infowar, sorry I mistyped your nick.
posted by BT at 7:29 PM on September 4, 2003


I don't think anybody minds if the artists get paid. In fact, I think most people would like to see the artists get paid. But, BUT, In giant flaming letters BUT, if making money is dependent on artificial scarcity created when society decided to give a monopoly on distribution to creators, and society decides that it no longer wants to give that monopoly, then the creators will just have to get creative and come up with some other way to assure they get paid.

The current system for rewarding artists and middlemen for recording their music onto shinny plastic discs is not the only way to make a living. It's not even the way it's always been done. In fact it's a very brief anomaly when viewed against the history of art and culture on this planet.

People will continue to create. Some people will continue to get paid for creating (a very small percentage by the way made smaller by the fact that mass media (the current system) as opposed to niche media (the potential of p2p) works better with a relatively small number of choices for a relatively large audience).

Don't let your concern for the artists get in the way of the fact that the current system of IP law is hopelessly arcane. It needs to be fixed, and it won't be as long as the old guard is allowed to buy influence and frame the discussion.
posted by willnot at 7:46 PM on September 4, 2003


Don't let your concern for the artists get in the way of the fact that the current system of IP law is hopelessly arcane. It needs to be fixed, and it won't be as long as the old guard is allowed to buy influence and frame the discussion.

Again: my argument was with the dismissal of the artist's economic rights (as if all art was equal to and only equal to hobby and play, when in fact much of our culture's great art was produced with the goal of putting dinner on the table); you say that if the artist's way of making money is dependent upon an artificial scarcity based on a bad monopoly, then it is incumbent upon the artist to find other ways of getting paid.

I would simply turn that around: if we want creativity in our culture, and want to truly reward creativity, it's up to us to find an alternative that rewards the making of good art in tangible ways. And in a lot of discussions of this subject I hear and see much faith in the notion that this will happen "naturally" through P2P or other technological solutions. I have a lot of skepticism about that. I think that this will not be easy or natural. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be tried.

Certainly our intellectual property law looks both arcane and out of date to me as well -- I just respond poorly to dismissals of a central issue: the worth the artist's labor. If you think that my concern with this is going to "get in the way" of changing a rotten system -- well, we'll just have to disagree.
posted by BT at 8:36 PM on September 4, 2003


Patronage, work for hire, tipping, future production held against payment from people who enjoyed current production, LIVE PERFORMANCE, LIVE PERFORMANCE LIVE PERFORMANCE with recorded music as an advertisement for same, advertising supported media, licensing. And on and on and on... These things have been discussed and considered BT, but it's up to the people who want to get paid to implement them. We can't drive that for them.

The response is always how dare you tell the creator how they can get paid for their creation. But the market for labor always dictates what and how they are willing to pay for what. .

One single flash in the pan method of making money is likely to be gone soon due to technological and culture shifts. I don't think it's up to the market to invent other ways for artist to make money. It's up to the people that want to make money off their creations to figure out how they can manage to get paid given current market realities.

A very select few can still do that by selling plastic discs. For how long though?
posted by willnot at 9:19 PM on September 4, 2003


UncleFes - I think we're in exactly the same place. Currently, I am doing the work required to overcome these problems. I just wish I didn't have to. For $5, I'd buy the CD. But at $20 a pop, it's actually worth my time to diddle the MP3s to perfection.

Only note in response: I was thinking less about "concept" albums needing to stay together and more about things like: 2 tracks with no gap between. That kind of continuity
posted by scarabic at 9:45 PM on September 4, 2003


I can't imagine why anyone would continue to create new products when anyone could duplicate it for free.

You mean like Apache, Ghostscript, OpenOffice.org, KDE, Gnome...


Advantage: five fresh fish.
posted by squirrel at 11:07 PM on September 4, 2003


Why do Universal hate the RIAA so much? The terrorists customers can only win from this.
posted by walrus at 4:46 AM on September 5, 2003


BT: I don't think you can assume financial reward equals creativity nor exclusively (even primarily) drives art. First of all, great art, like its subset literature, is usually only decided over time. In fact, most artists are never rewarded financially or with praise during their lifetime.

IMHO it is not financial gain that drives creativity (a topic I don't think I mentioned in my second post). In fact, most people can't turn on/off creativity. Remember, creativity can be applied in many different situations from scientific discoveries to making light bulbs last longer. I think it is a stretch to call any of those activities art. In fact, I would suggest that many, many examples of "art" rely primarily on skill and not creativity. Michelangelo's David isn't very creative, but it is an awesome display of skill.

But while on the subject of creating I think human history has plenty of examples of art that was not created for financial gain. Financial gain for creating art is not the primary motivation, but rather financial gain for creating a product. Look at Grecian oil vases. These were functional items created for a specific commercial purpose (transporting oil). That centuries later they become art has no bearing on the why they were originally created.

Finally, I see no difference between "low" and "high" art. Art is that which captures the divine, not what some monied or intellectual elite claims it to be. It is that elitist attitude that makes me so sick and empathetic to Goebbels(?) quote "When somebody mentions art I reach for my gun". Maybe that's because of my past art experiences, so color me bitterly biased. (I can take it :) )

Yes, supporting artists is nice. But I don't think they deserve any better treatment than a Shaker furniture maker, a skilled programmer, or an electronics tinkerer simply because they are artists. They make product for a living, just like everybody I know and that makes them no better nor worse than any other worker. Everybody can write, draw, sing or otherwise have creative expression. To limit it to a few self-professed artists is demeaning to everybody. If I find a work valuable I should pay what I think its worth. If I could negoitate with the artists (instead of a middleman distributor who has been handed IP rights most of the time) things would be better, but this attitude that artists must get paid is ridiculous.

I have to go to work now or I'd rant more. Take care and
with deep respect, - infowar.
posted by infowar at 5:28 AM on September 5, 2003


In another medium, Baen books (www.baen.com) has put out a free library of books (http://www.baen.com/library/) and are selling some of their old collection and many of their new books as ebooks (http://www.webscription.net).

They've found that the books they've offered for free have actually increased in sales.

I've got a much bigger book habit than a music habit, and I've been happily paying Webscriptions for new books as they comes out or old books I'd like to carry around on my PDA.

The music industry could do worse than look at Baen's experiment.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:51 AM on September 5, 2003


Oh, great, they've reduced the price a bit. Unfortunately, as this article illustrates, it's not so good for the little guy.
posted by knapah at 2:49 PM on September 10, 2003


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