Niall Byrne: Age of musical dilemmas
With a new Sufjan Stevens album called The Age of Adz on the way this week, his US record label, Asthmatic Kitty, issued a plea asking fans not to buy the new record through Amazon as the online shopping giant will purportedly be selling the album for a very low price.
In a lengthy email (bit.ly/sufjanplea) discussing the positive and negative aspects of discount pricing, the label takes a stance by saying they feel "the work that our artists produce is worth more than a cost of a latte".
They have a point -- music should be worth more than that. But music is sadly losing its value. You can blame illegal downloads, a slow-moving industry, supermarket chains who buy up chart CDs at a discount and sell them at a loss (shutting down independent record shops in the process), or you can attribute it to the ever-changing media-devouring landscape. Some people will blame bloggers such as myself.
Asthmatic Kitty isn't blaming Amazon directly. Rather, the missive places the decision on the shoulders of the Sufjan fan, politely asking them to buy the album via their shop, Bandcamp or independent stores rather than Amazon or downloading a leaked version. A simple purchase becomes a moral dilemma and the label hopes you make the right choice. The Age of Adz is worth it too, by the way.
Here's a scenario you might not have considered. What if you buy the album through iTunes? It's yours to own and cherish, right? Wrong. According to a recent court ruling in San Francisco, that music may not belong to you, you might be merely licensing it.
A federal appeals court reviewing a case against Universal Music Group by rap producers affiliated with Eminem said that iTunes downloads are encumbered with enough restrictions that they cannot be considered sales at all.
Ultimately, it all depends on the agreement between label and artist in the contract, but it's worth considering. In future, if major labels and Apple end up clashing over iTunes, it will be the consumer who loses out. Again.