Sunday, August 07, 2011

Children Being Born Now Will Never Get a Chance to Use Compact Discs

“It is not going to leak,” tweeted a confident John Meneilly

Here we are, less than 3 hours before the digital iTunes release and the only crumbs we've gotten from @s_c_ and @kanyewest's Watch the Throne come in the form of a 6 minute YouTube video that has 30 second snippets of the tracks.
30 Second Snippets From Watch the Throne
To put it in context, Beyonce's new album 4 leaked three weeks in advance, Eminem's Recovery and Drake's Thank Me Later leaked two weeks in advance, and Lil Wayne's The Carter 3 leaked 10 days prior to release. Shoot I thought Lady Gaga was queen of the world for finding a way for her album to not leak until 5 days before her release. I'd say it's about time for all the naysayers, who scoffed at Jay-Z's manager for confidently declaring last Wednesday that the record is "...not going to leak", to cut themselves a big piece of humble pie right now.

You might be wondering why it didn't leak or what all of this means? First off, it didn't leak simply because no physical copies have been sent to distributors. In other words, the album will initially only be available digitally, when the album, all 12 cuts plus four deluxe edition bonus tracks, will be exclusively released in digital format on iTunes. I say exclusively because their release plan is very unique in that they are allowing iTunes to exclusively sell digital copies of the album tonight at midnight on August 8th, four days before the thousands of other retail record shops get to sell the physical copy on August 12th. It gets better, the physical copy retailers will be able to sell will be limited to the standard 12 track album, since Jay-Z and Kanye struck a deal with Best Buy to be the only retailer who can sell the deluxe 16 track edition for the first ten days of sale until August 23rd. I'll let that sink in a little while you read the petition below that was put together by a huge group of unhappy retail outlets who are being hung out to dry by the decision...
"Dear Jay-Z and Kanye West,

Independent record stores serve our communities. Our passion is music, and we convey this to the millions of customers who come to our stores. That’s what we do.

Four years ago independent music stores across the country banded together to create Record Store Day. Our goal was to counter the negative media coverage about the supposed demise of record stores brought on by the closing of the Tower stores and to respond to the music business practices that fans deemed to be manipulative and onerous.

We reached out to the artist community to see if they would join us, and the response was overwhelming, with words of support coming in from Paul McCartney, Erykah Badu, Tom Waits, Chuck D, the Foo Fighters and countless others. Working with their label partners, many of these musicians created limited edition works of art, including vinyl and CDs made especially for music-specialty retail. Hundreds of these artists took the opportunity to perform, DJ, and interact with their fans in our record stores. Here in the U.S., Record Store Day lifted the entire music business by 8% and contributed to the growth in music sales. Record Store Day is now one of the biggest music events in history, with millions of people participating worldwide. We also continue to work throughout the year with labels, artists and managers and run regular promotions via physical independent retail and

We are responding to the bad news that your new album will not be available to independent record stores until after iTunes gets a window of exclusivity. We also learned that the deluxe version (which is what the true music fans who shop our stores will want, by an overwhelming majority) will only be available at Best Buy exclusively for a period of time. We believe this is a short-sighted strategy, and that your decisions will be doing great damage to over 1,700 independent record stores — stores that have supported you and your music for years.

We know that you are busy, and that you put most of your energies into creating great music, but we are writing to you in the hope that you will hear us and take the time to rectify this matter. As representatives of the independent record store music community, we are asking you to allow record stores and music fans equal access to your new album.

With the utmost respect. (signed Indie Record Store Owners)"
I'll bet you're pretty surprised that Jay and Kanye didn't feel the need to respond to the open letter?

So what does this all mean? In my opinion, this will turn out to be one of the more significant events in record industry history. I say that because no other artists have had the combination of audacity and power to control every variables relating to their record being released that like Jay-Z and Kanye did. And now, as a result, it's probably going to turn out to be a really eye opening case study when their record sells the exact same amount (or probably more) even when they staggered the physical release of their album.

The impact on industry stakeholders will be widespread too, with digital retailers (Apple), exclusive big business retailers (Best Buy) and the artists (Kanye/Jay-Z) being the big winners, while pirates/bootleggers and small Indie record stores and Amazon being the obvious losers. With the extinction of many brick and mortar retailers like Circuit City and Borders, moves like this should quicken the already rapidly declining physical sales and eliminate the possibility of Indie record stores to survive in the current market.

For me, that's sad because I grew up spending my allowance or whatever cash I could scrape together to run down to Sam Goody and cop whatever single or album I could get my hands on. That is where I grew my roots in Hip Hop, which has rapidly evolved itself into more of an internet driven, technology forward, digital distribution business model. As a blogger, part of my job is to keep my eye out for new music that you haven't heard yet that I personally like. Sure, the absence of leaks would limit my power and influence as a writer because I wouldn't be able to provide a heads up on music that will be coming in the future, but in truth, I don't mind one bit that Jay-Z and Kanye chose this route and prevented their album from leaking. It's not going to prevent people from ultimately bootlegging the album as early as tonight, which is a sad realization for those Indie record stores who feel like they're getting singled out and losing money for nothing, but it will be wake up call for all artists/record companies looking to maximize their profit by preventing the initial sales push of their album being squashed because everyone has been listening to it for weeks before people can actually buy it.

Like any other industry shift, chalk it up to Social Darwinism where the evolving companies ahead of the technology wave are reaping the benefits and eliminating everyone else with the old business model in the process. The best way I can sum it up, thanks Ye and Hov, you've managed to make a mid-twenties blogger feel old because there are probably kids being born now that will never know what it was like to buy or burn a compact disk...

Feel free to watch the last Watch the Throne trailer to surface before everyone shuts down iTunes in a couple hours...
Watch the Throne Trailer 2


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