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: â€œThe Eagles sold out,â€ â€œWal-Mart is evil.â€ 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. Itâ€™s logic. Plain and simple.
If youâ€™re thinking that a real rock-n-roll rebel would not make a deal with Wal-Mart, youâ€™re dead wrong. I would bet my last dollar that *Dylan, Young* and others will be flowing. If this model proves profitableâ€”theyâ€™ll be exiting their contracts saying, â€œHey 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.â€ Again, itâ€™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 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.
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!