The music industry finds another way to shoot itself in the foot

I am a huge Paul Simon fan, so I was delighted to find that his new album, So Beautiful or So What, is out.

… or is it?  According to amazon.com, it came out just over a week ago, on 12 April; but amazon.co.uk says that it will be released in a couple of months, on 13 June.

As a long-time Paul Simon fan, I am presumably the core market that the album is aimed at.  And it seems that the marketing strategy for reaching us is: If You Live Outside The USA, Screw You.

If you’re American, you’d be surprised what a common strategy that is.  If you’re British, it won’t be news to you.

But really, what on earth can the label be thinking here?  How can it be to their commercial advantage to prevent Brits from buying the CD?  I know I complain about this kind of thing a lot (DVD Regions, inability to buy MP3s from America, unusable store credit, more on unusability of store credit), but this time around I truly am completely, completely unable to come up with a mental model of what the label is hoping to achieve.

Like every other Paul Simon fan in Britain, my choices are: (A) pre-order the CD or MP3s from Amazon.co.uk and wait for June, when they will actually become available; (B) buy the physical CD from Amazon.com, and wait for it to be shipped across the Atlantic; or (C) torrent the MP3s.

What do they think is going to happen?

Being the upstanding citizen that I am, I have gone for option (A+C): I’ve pre-ordered the CD from Amazon.co.uk, and rather than wait eight weeks for it to arrive, I have torrented the MP3s which I am now happily listening to.  When the CD arrives, I’ll shove it on the CD shelf, probably still in its shrink-wrap, quite possibly never to be opened.

But now think of all the other people who, because of the unavailability of the CD in the UK, will also torrent the MP3s.  Will they all buy the CD when it becomes available?  Surely not all of them — so that’s a whole bunch of lost sales, right there.

And now think of everyone who torrents these MP3s as the only way to get the album without waiting, whether or not they subsequently buy the CD.  How many of them are new to the world of torrents?  How many of them will, thanks to the label’s bizarre policy, have been introduced to the world of free, easily accessible content for the first time?  Is that what the label wants?  Is it?  Huh?  Huh?  Is it?

As I wrote once before:

In the end, it won’t be the greed and irresponsibility of listeners that brings the music industry down in great waves of “piracy”; it will be the industry’s own astonishingly consistent stupidity.

Not many of us will be weeping bitter tears when that happens.

Update (the next day)

There’s some good discussion of this on Hacker News.

26 responses to “The music industry finds another way to shoot itself in the foot

  1. This is quite strange, indeed.
    Here in France, this (fantastic) album is available on all retail channels, be it amazon, iTunes or brick-and-mortar record shops (FNAC for instance).

    I really don’t get the point of treating the UK differently. Have you checked other shops than amazon?

  2. Xavier Blondel quote rightly asked: “Have you checked other shops than amazon?”

    I hadn’t, but I have now. hmv.co.uk gives a release date of 13th June, the same as Amazon. sainsburysentertainment.co.uk has the same date. So it does seem to be a UK-wide delay until that date. overstock.com are willing to sell it to me now, but notes “Price includes an International Service Fee. Taxes, Duties, and Shipping additional”. So it’s evidently buying them in from the USA and selling them on.

    In short: no, it’s not just Amazon.

  3. other way too

    Check Bring Him Home from Alfie Boe! It was posted to Amazon UK on 27 Dec 2010 but did not arrive to the USA until March 1, 2011. It’s also 50 percent more expensive in the USA.

  4. Seems standard practice for the music industry – did the Beatles albums see the same release dates in the States as they did in the UK?

    It’s just marketing ‘strategy.’

  5. Not surprising. Look at (for example) SquareEnix release dates for their games. Very consistently they’ll release a game to the Japanese audience before releasing it to the US and Europe.

  6. Newer artists are signing global deals from the off – either by choice, or because multi-nationals like Warners are now only dealing with artists willing to sign a global rights deal from the off.

    I suspect what’s happening here is that Paul Simon has a separate UK deal, and that his UK label is being laggard. (Historically, artists would often deliberately sign to different publishers and labels in different territories. This is becoming less common precisely because of things like this).

    It could be laziness / stupidity in not considering the lost sales during the period after US release, or possibly it could be deliberate – they’d like him to do some UK publicity around the release date, or they’ve identified a good window in the UK release market.

    (And let’s face it – Paul Simon is going to sell way more CDs than downloads anyway, simply by nature of his audience).

    And it happens the other way a lot – the UK gets lots of books, music and television before the USA does.

    Not sure what the answer is – global release means synchronising global marketing which equals a load of faff, especially when different companies are involved – a good date in the US might not be a good date in the UK or Germany.

  7. One possibility that comes to mind is that they want to have a coordinated launch in the UK. For example, a common strategy when releasing a new album is to do the rounds with all the radio stations and talk shows that would reach your target audience. Due to both the time different and the sheer amount of work that would need to be done, they break it into phases so they can manage them better.

    This may or may not be the reason but you do raise an interesting question as even movies and other things release at different times outside the US. I am originally from Fiji Islands (now living in California) and I remember as a kid having to wait a week or even a month sometimes to watch movies that were getting release in the US already. It was indeed frustrating.

    ~ Melvin Ram

  8. As someone who likes a lot of British indie rock, but lives in the US, I’ve had similar stuff happen. One time a record came out 3 months earlier in Britain… (The best part was that in that case, the artist was an American artist who was a lot more popular in Britain.)

    Different people handle it in different parts of the world.

  9. The album was also on Spotify until a few days ago, at which point all but the first two tracks were pulled. This could just be Spotify’s usual shenanigans, though.

    And it does look like it’s to do with separate deals in different countries: the album came out under his own label in the US, but it’s sold through Decca in the UK.

  10. In the end, it won’t be the greed and irresponsibility of listeners that brings the music industry down in great waves of “piracy”; it will be the industry’s own astonishingly consistent stupidity.

    Not many of us will be weeping bitter tears when that happens.

    My fear here is that the music industry’s stupidity will hurt not only themselves, but the livelihood of all the artists who currently depend on them. Yeah, the Internet lets them move into more direct channels like Bandcamp — but the consumers will already have been taught that the right price point is “free.”

    Then I imagine we’ll see a painful readjustment process, where some (but not all!) of the consumers realize unpaid artists can’t eat. We could lose a lot of music there.

  11. A friend of mine made the cartoon How Bob the Millionaire became a pirate 6 years ago. Things haven’t changed much since then.

  12. Thanks for interesting comments.

    Jimmy, the release strategy for the Beatles’ albums in the USA is widely seen as having been botched. But even if, at the time, it made commercial sense to do it that way, it certainly doesn’t now when a free download of an artificially delayed release is only a couple of clicks away. Maybe the problem here is that the labels think it’s still 1964.

    Ezra, I think you’re right to fear the collateral damage to artists. I think, though, we can hope that enough people will continue to understand that the right price isn’t zero — and after all, given that artistsunder the current mainstream system will get, what, 10% of the sale price if they’re lucky, they’ll only need to sell 1/5 as many when they’re getting half of that price by selling through more direct channels.

  13. *Why* is there a photo of a sushi roll in this post? I dun get it. ;)

  14. Similar thing posted by Fred Wilson not too long ago. Not always in favor of U.S.: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/02/anatomy-of-a-pirate.html

    And here’s the explanation: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/03/computers-and-blues.html

  15. It’s the traditional marketing model driving the release dates. Press junkets and PR appearances plus the radio spots on radio 2 will mean they can’t be in two continents at once. The old school way of thinking us that the artist doing the rounds will generate noise and increase sales.

  16. Cousin Wil,
    There is no obvious reason except Mike (my colleague) loves sushi. And all other good food.

  17. JulesLt has a comment that shouldn’t be ignored. The label in the US may have nothing to do with the UK rights holder, who may have been secured later, or as someone else said, doesn’t want to release with no promotional help from the artist, who is focusing on the US market right now – so for whatever reason there is a delay. It might be intentional, and then your argument and frustration are both valid, but it could be a bi-product of having two different labels/distributors.

  18. Pingback: Top Posts — WordPress.com

  19. To add insult to injury, Paul Simon plays a concert in UK on the 23rd of June, so ten days after the UK release date Mike provided us with (http://www.paulsimon.com/events?page=1).

    IMHO, this definitely means not paying much attention to the audience, who has to attend a concert filled of songs from an album one barely had the time to listen to carefully…

  20. When I go to the itunes store in Belgium, this is what I see : http://i.imgur.com/JnnxN.png
    I wonder how they explain that.

  21. The same things happens with movies. Why do most movies come out in my country (Belgium) about two month after their release in the states ? Everybody talks about the movie, but I just *can’t* see it. So what happens is that I have to wait, but when the movie finally comes out in my country, it is available on the net as R5 (pirated russian dvdrip) and I’m so pissed I just don’t want to pay to watch the movie.

    I wouldn’t be surprised they justified this policy as an anti-piracy measure.

  22. There seem to be two outcomes of these arbitrary restrictions on purchasing entertainment:

    1) Piracy
    2) Teaching people to wait

    In either case, it hurts sales. Why watch a hot new show during the marketing buzz? You’ll be hung out to dry during the various hiatuses, production and marketing delays. You’ll soon learn it makes more sense to wait until the full collection is out. It’s not as if we’re all watching the same shows and talking about them at the office water cooler any more. If you wait, you get to watch the whole thing, and you’ll do so knowing it has stood the test of time. If you wait a bit longer, you can even buy a used copy and save even more.

    Like many businesses, the goal isn’t always profit. It’s often about control.

  23. Pingback: Help! I’m listening to terrible music! | Sealed Abstract

  24. Pingback: Top albums of 2011, #4: So Beautiful or So What (2011), Paul Simon | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  25. Pingback: Sunday in the Park with George | The Reinvigorated Programmer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s