Consumer Life

Superproducer Jermaine Dupri has a long-winded essay on Huffington Post about how Steve Jobs is killing music. The same complaint was made by others recently. It seems that that Mr. Dupri feels the consumer better buy the whole album or else. Singles, he claims, are pointless. So Jay-Z’s American Gangster (now available at fine torrent sites worldwide) will not be sold at iTunes, because that means he’ll have to sell tracks piecemeal. Why do you insist on denying us your dollars? he continues, why do you think you’re free to enjoy what you want to enjoy? (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.). Now, iTunes – Coincidentally as big as it is these days only because it’s the only legal download service so far that has actually fucking worked! – has proved that people are more than willing to pay for music they want. Which seems to indicate that – hey! – it’s not the death of commercial music after all! I do see how it might pose a problem for a stagnant music industry, though. These days it takes scores of producers and creators to piece together an album anodyne enough to have mass market appeal and sell big. I think Say My Name, the Destiny’s Child single, had something like seven writers. We’re talking about a song that’s three words long, people!

Besides, the pop industry was built on the back of the single. Part of the reason people don’t want to buy a full, overpriced CD these days is that they’re not worth it. You might get one, possibly two decent singles, but the rest is filler. I should add that I do respect the artists: I may not agree with the way they do business, but after all, it is their right to choose how their music is sold. As it is the right of the customer to disagree with that, and not support the artist and go elsewhere.

For better or worse, digital life has changed the entertainment industry. Has it benefited the consumer? Sure. I was happy to pick up, say, Mika’s Grace Kelly single for a buck at the iTunes store a while ago. It was what I wanted. If I wanted the whole album, I would have bought it. But the thing is, ten years ago, I would still only would have wanted the single. If I’d had to buy the whole thing, I most likely wouldn’t, and would’ve taped it off the radio.

Guys, what you fail to see is: consumers flock to iTunes (and Amazon), because they deliver what the customers want. Kill the single, what do you get? Not a dime more. What you WILL get is a hell of a lot more P2P illegal downloading. And you can take that to the bank (though it won’t help you with the mortgage). As I said, I do respect the artist, and I’m happy to support the artist for his troubles. But the invisible hand that’s been used to justify ripping off customers for decades is the same hand that just bitchslapped you.

Updated: According to Valleywag, it seems the iTunes store does allow artists to sell album-only music. So where’s the problem?