Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': The path to the 99 cent album
The value of an album continues to be a nebulous thing, and the digital e-tailer has been a driving force. The low-low-low price points have been a bid by Amazon to increase its market share against Apple's dominant iTunes store, as well as to convert users to its cloud drive (free 20 gigs for those who drop a buck for Gaga). The cloud drive allows users to store purchased music and upload files they already own for listening elsewhere.
Thus, the battle between Amazon and iTunes seems to have taken on more urgency of late, as Amazon launched its cloud drive and inspired the ire of the music industry by doing so without label and publisher permission. Meanwhile, Apple has been playing ball with the biz, and is expected to soon launch its own officially sanctioned cloud storage service.
While both services will grant users the privilege of storing music they've bought and paid for, by securing the appropriate licenses from music publishers and songwriters, Apple can simply scan a user's collection and make all of those songs available within minutes for them to listen to over an Internet connection. It remains to be seen whether or not music obtained by what the industry deems "illicit means" will be included too.
Meanwhile, as the hand-wrangling continues on the cloud services, the album continues to depreciate in value. Amazon's 99-cent sale is one day only, or so the site was advertising Monday (a $3.99 promotion for the Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" was continually extended), but it shouldn't necessarily be a shocker. Heavy loss-leading by retailers was in effect long before the maturation of the digital marketplace, as was the case in 2002, when the discounting of the Dixie Chicks' "Home" to $8.99 by Best Buy merited a news mention in Billboard.
In 2006, Best Buy raised eyebrows again, when titles from the likes of the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene were sold for $2 below cost at $7.99. It's been a fast acceleration downward since, with Radiohead in 2007 allowing fans to pay what they wanted, and Amazon bowing U2's "No Line on the Horizon" for $3.99 in 2009.
And here we are, with the 14 tracks of "Born This Way" going for the price of a song. The battle may be over market share or cloud-storage dominance, but caught in the crossfire will be the price point at which consumers will be willing to pay for an album. Oh, and meanwhile, iTunes is selling "Born This Way" for $11.99
-- Todd Martens
Images: A screenshot of the 99¢ Only Store's weekly advertisment and a screenshot of Amazon.com's Lady Gaga page.