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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2007/10/21
by Mike Gruenberg

So, Whats It Worth To You?

In My Life
How many times have you bargained with another person over an item to be purchased or a service to be performed and after a long discussion the other guy finally gives you a price? You frown, propose your price, the other guy feigns incredulity and the speaking continues. You talk back and forth; arrive at a price the two of you believes to be fair for both parties and after a period of time an agreement is established. We create those kinds of scenarios multiple times in our every day lives. Even when a list price of an item is on the table, there is always room for negotiation. In many countries throughout the world, the only agreed upon final price is a negotiated one. In those places, lack of bargaining in establishing the final price is considered to be an insult.
The great Babe Ruth after an extraordinary home run year went into management to negotiate a new contract for him for the following year. The amount of money he asked for so astounded the teams general manager who countered by pointing out that Ruth was asking for money than the President of the United States was being paid at the time. Ruth is purported to have said that he had a better year than the President and as such, deserved the amount he was asking.
When groups like the Beatles Led Zeppelin and the Police would release albums, virtually every song was a gem. Every Bowie, Springsteen and Queen album has virtually no filler or substandard songs contained in their offerings. Buying any of their albums even without prior knowledge of all the songs contained on the disc was easy because quality of the material was assured. Somewhere along the way, the record business lost their way. In recent years, more often than not, records were released some with great fanfare with less than stellar material. One or three good cuts were oft times overshadowed by eight or nine not so good cuts. In their rush to release product, record companies forgot to understand that the music buying public has come to the point where we have options. In this age of specialization and technology, people know what music they want and they know how to get it.
First we had sharing. Begun by Napster, the music buying public began to trade songs freely over the internet. Rather than understand the basics of the new phenomenon the record companies sought to kill this mechanism under a flurry of law suits to both the organizers of this process and the actual people who were trading songs with one another. It was a public relations nightmare for the record companies. Nice to see a billion dollar corporate conglomerate suing a 12 year old girl in Iowa for freely downloading a Justin Timberlake tune.
Then the record companies decided that they could use technology to solve the problem of people copying CDs for their friends. Rather than understand the process and work within a system to encourage copying for a fee, they encrypted CDs so that when a person tried to burn a copy, their CD player became damaged. Another brilliant public relations move. That idea was also abandoned. In essence, record companies have continually failed to understand the buying habits of people buying their products.
The bottom line is that today the music buying public is not only more sophisticated, but now has the technology to get the artists and the specific songs of those artists that they want in any number of ways. The genesis of the decline in sales of CDs in the music industry is due primarily to people buying only what they want through the internet and ignoring substandard material on albums they dont want. If there are only one or two good songs on the album, then the purchaser only wants those two tunes and not the other eight. There was a time when you could not choose which songs you wanted, but now we can.
I was therefore not entirely surprised to hear that the group Radiohead has invited people to download their seventh and latest album, In Rainbows from their website at whatever price each person decides to pay for it. Talk about putting your money where you mouth is. In a move away from their record company (Parlophone), the group is releasing their album independently on their website to their fans with optional pricing. If you like it, you pay for it. Many other rock stars (Prince, Paul McCartney and Nine Inch Nails) have or are in the process of abandoning their record companies to go direct to the record-buying public.
On Radioheads site, there is no price listed as a cost to download. The buyer makes the choice. There are choices as far as buying the basic album or getting a more deluxe set, but the choice of payment amount is clearly the buyers which is based on liking the album or not.. What a concept!
The reality is that people will buy quality products. Whatever the type of music that a person favors, there are albums galore for everyones taste. Whether its one song or twelve, the proof lies in the music presented.
Record companies are facing the reality of decreasing sales. Whose fault it is now is irrelevant. What is relevant for them is figuring out how to solve the problem. Whatever the success of the Radiohead experiment, it is sure to be followed by others. With the music industrys inability to cope with file sharing, this new venture by Radiohead may be the beginning of the end for traditional sales of albums by the major record companies. The best antidote to pumping up sales is to release albums with many fine tunes so that the entire album is worth purchasing.
Its Worth A Lot, If Its a Quality Product

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