Bo Bice and Wal-Mart – What Does It Mean?

Bo’s fans are buzzing because physical copies of his new CD will only be available in Wal*Mart, although it seems that digital downloads will be available from all online music retailers once the CD is released. (See this post for details)

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Is it brilliant creative marketing, or a sell-out to the evil corporate giant?

First of all, let me say that I don’t know, although I tend towards feeling positive. Second, let me say that I don’t know if my own positive feelings are shared by everyone involved with running this site – we haven’t discussed it yet – so (as usual) this blog is mine and not BFB’s.

How Did We Get Here?

To make a decision on how you feel, I think you have to step back and consider how the music industry has changed. Once upon a time, record companies sought out the best talent they could find and then nurtured it. In 1975, after two failed albums, Bruce Springsteen was told that ‘Born to Run’ was his last chance. Two failed albums! Now the industry is struggling so badly that many pop artists are signed for one single – if it’s not a radio hit, they don’t even get to make an album.

And radio has become increasingly homogenized, so that it’s possible to create paint-by-numbers music knowing that this chorus or this key change will guarantee radio play – and the flipside is that record companies and radio stations and retailers have become increasingly leery of anything that doesn’t fit the formula.

So artists have two options … make music that sounds exactly like something else that sells well (so record label promotions people can easily sum it up for radio programmers who don’t want to have to think too hard). Or option #2, which is to find another way to get yourself noticed and sell CDs.

Before Bo, the Eagles signed an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart. While the Eagles are obviously hugely famous and their back catalogue sells gazillions of copies a year, a new CD is a challenge for them. Their music doesn’t fit any of radio’s current formulas and their fans don’t listen to the radio anymore. In fact, their fans are not really tuned in to what’s happening in pop culture and so may never know that they have a CD coming out.

This blogger summed up why this deal makes sense for The Eagles – who, like Bo, have their own record label:

There has been a lot of squawk on the blog-o-sphere about this Egalitarian deal. Often they are negative to both sides: “The Eagles sold out,” “Wal-Mart is evil.” But if I were *Irving Azoff* (the Eagles Manager), I think I would be proud. This is a bold step. Artists are in the business of selling records. They need to sell as many as they can these days. Wal-Mart sells more CDs than just about anybody. It’s logic. Plain and simple.

If you’re thinking that a real rock-n-roll rebel would not make a deal with Wal-Mart, you’re dead wrong. I would bet my last dollar that *Dylan, Young* and others will be flowing. If this model proves profitable—they’ll be exiting their contracts saying, “Hey I can get $8 for a CD sale today instead of getting $1.50 a sale in a year, AFTER I arm-wrestle my record company with an audit.” Again, it’s logic.

And that last sentence? Trust me, it’s true. The artists often have to hire auditors to review the record company’s numbers.

But I digress.

The Downside

The downside of a deal like this is that casual fans who never go in a Wal-Mart may never know that you released a CD. Especially if you don’t have huge radio hits. So you lose sales at Amazon and Target and Best Buy and the indie record stores. And you have to balance that against whatever you gain at Wal-Mart.

Which makes a deal like this a risk. But on the other hand, how much support could Bo realistically have expected from Target and B&N? Would they have front-racked his CDs and played his video in store and hung his posters? Or would they have been focused on more famous artists with a stronger sales track record?

An exclusive deal gives Wal-Mart an incentive to make Bo’s album a success. Not because it will make up a huge part of their annual revenue, but because they want to prove to other artists that this is the way to go. Wal-Mart has long been in a battle with record labels over costs and they’d just as soon go direct with artists, but they can’t persuade the artists to take a risk unless they can prove it is worthwhile.

And one difference between Bo’s deal and The Eagles is that his CD will still available for purchase at other digital retailers. iTunes just took over the spot as the #3 music retailer in the US, so online sales are not unimportant these days.

Chart Positions

We’re not entirely sure of this, but it seems that if your CD isn’t available in all retailers, it’s not eligible for the Billboard 200 chart. It would be nice to see Bo on there, but then again, I think I’ll be relieved if I don’t have to worry about that!

So Where Does That Leave Us?

I wish the music industry wasn’t the way it is. I wish authentic music of all genres had as much of a chance as the new Carrie Underwood CD. I wish Bo’s face could be plastered on Billboards all over the US.

But the world is what it is. Only music-by-numbers sells in large quantities these days and everyone else has to find another way.

Bo’s fans wanted “Bo to be Bo” and that’s what we’re getting with this CD. But instead of the usual indie arrangement, with limited promotion and scant availability, Bo has an exclusive deal with the #1 retailer in the US. In my opinion, it looks as though Bo has it about as good as any indie artist could ever hope for.

Of course we don’t know the details of what Wal*Mart has committed to do for Bo, and that could change everything, but for now, I’m excited for the opportunities this deal affords him.

What about you? Do you love it? Hate it? Talk to me!

16 Responses to Bo Bice and Wal-Mart – What Does It Mean?

  1. Nice article Lulu. I noticed billboard picked up the story of Bo and his Walmsrt deal. It is underheadlines on their website and has quotes from Bo. Sounds like you are pretty dead on with his choices and for him at this point in his career, I think he made the best choice he could and I hope it pays off in a big way. Too bad we only get to hear the approved pop on the radio. That’s why I rarely listen to it anymore even though I have over an hour commute to work. Sure would love some Bo on the radio to kill that time.

  2. Avatar earthdreamer
    earthdreamer says:

    Great article Lulu. I know nothing about the music business, so I appreciate you mapping it out in such a clear way. What I do know is how I feel & I feel that Bo is really smart & unbelievably talented & that he is paving the way to his dream of a 30 or even 40 year career making the music he was born to make. He has to be ecstatic & I’m right there with him.

  3. I think Bo absolutely made the right choice. He’s been out of the public eye for a while, he’s on an indie label. It would have been very hard for him to compete with “today’s radio hits.” What a great way to go; have the #1 music retailer do the publicity. I’m confident they will do a great job with Bo.

  4. This is a really great blog LuLu! I don’t know jack shit about the music industry but what Bo is doing makes alot of sence. I am very sure Bo didn’t decide this on a whim. I’m sure there was alot of thought from both Bo and SAM and this was the best way to go. I am very excited for him. I believe he will do just fine. I have no worries.

  5. I’m sure Bo made the decision he thinks is best. We won’t know how this plays out though until the end of October. I guess no one knows for certain at this point how it will work out. I have my fingers crossed.

  6. I’m wondering if we’ll know even then. If Bo doesn’t appear on the BB charts, I wonder if we’ll ever hear his sales numbers. It seems unlikely that he’d share them with us and unless Wal-Mart puts out a press release. It’s also highly unlikely that we’ll ever know what kind of retail support and promotion Bo would have got if he HADN’T signed an exclusive deal. So I don’t know that we’ll ever have a definitive answer as to whether this was the best approach. Probably just a bunch of opinions as usual!

  7. Thanks lulu, your blog was informative and thought provoking. I think that Bo is doing what he needs to do. Alot, alot of people do shop at WAl-Mart. And a whole lot don’t …while its too bad we won’t see Bo’s adorable face everywhere,I think this will turn out to be a good deal. I don’ know IF there will be MEGA hits off the Album…I only know what kind of music I like and what I buy. If I were in Charge of the world and its music “SEE THE LIGHT” would sell a zillion copies by the end of Oct. Is it a risk? Yeah. Is it a sure thing? No…Is it unconventional and unique? Yeah. Will we worry? Yeah? Bo …risk…unique…worry….Yep sounds like Bo. And that can only be a really good thing in my eyes. Go Bo!

  8. I think Bo is one smart,talented, yummy cookie.

    Thanks for the great blogs, lulu. You do sort it out for those of us who don’t know a damn thing about the music industry.

  9. HELP!!!

    I can’t download from Walmart. I even turned off my norton and my spyware programs. I would only do this for Bo. I want my download of Witness—awesome song.

  10. Just call customer service. Apparently they’re very helpful.

  11. If Bo is charted on billboard, then he wouldn’t be able to qualify for a gold or platinum record even if he did those kind of numbers? That stinks, but I think at this point Bo is thinking about the money it takes to produce and distribute a quality cd and will worry about minor stuff like gold cds to plaster his walls with later on in his career. Bo is turning out to be more of a businessman that I gave him credit for. Good for him and his family.

  12. Gold and platinum certifications are based on RIAA audits of record labels’ shipping records. The Soundscan numbers and Billboard charts are irrelevant.

  13. Do they take digital sales into account or is it only physical CDs? If so, that will soon be outdated and I think Bo is on the wave of a new trend in the industry.

    There’s another chart on Billboard called the Comprehensive Album Chart that does include all sales (I think only physical CDs) even if they are not available to all retailers. That was mentioned in an article about The Eagles’ deal and I assume it applies to Bo.

    I think physical vs. download is irrelevant as far as people knowing about Bo’s album. The bottom line is, most people search for that info online whether they plan to order a download, the physical CD, or just find a store location near them. The word is out and it’s going to get louder and louder as October 23rd approaches. It’s all good for Bo.

  14. Digital album sales do count for RIAA certification.

  15. I finally did call customer service and was able to preorder and download “Witness.”

  16. Great stuff Lulu!

    I’m kind of bummed it’s exclusively at Walmart because I never shop there. But, I will go and buy a bunch of Bo Bice CD’s there now.

    I also wanted to add this somewhere and wasn’t sure. My local newspaper, “The Dallas Morning News” is running a poll to vote for the Fall CD that you are most anticipating.

    Well, they had lists and lists of all the new FALL CD’s and on Oct. 23rd there was no mention of BO! O_O I wrote the writer of the article and asked why Bo Bice’s 2nd CD was not mentioned and will see if he replies.

    I suggest we all write to this guy, Mario Tarradell:
    and comment on the lack of BO being recognized. And, you can even sign up and vote and make a comment here for Bo:
    This link also has a link to the article that is sans BO. T__T