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February 20, 2006

The death of the album ...

I've been reading articles like this one for a while now. They all basically claim that since digital delivery allows consumers to pick and choose individual tracks, this means that sales of packages of tunes in the form of albums will no lnger be viable. I think this is short-sighted and narrow-minded (and mostly marketing hype) - it has two major flaws.

First is that it overlooks the economics of music production. Artists don't (tend to) write and record ther music as single songs - that's just not cost-effective. Some write as the music comes to them and then block out a studio session, while they're not touring, to record the songs. Then they choose a collection of the best recordings, call it an album and market that. It's simply not viable to record and publish the songs one at a time - like most manufacturing and supply operations, the product comes in batches.

It takes almost as much manpower to upload a single track to a digital delivery system (like iTunes) as it does a collection of ten or more tracks, so there's not much benefit to most artists or digital operations to release them one at a time. It's easier to upload the lot at once and allow consumers to choose them on whatever basis they desire. Believe it or not, Bun' Ber E has sold "entire albums" as well as singles via Itunes and other outlets.

Second, sometimes a collection of songs works so well together that, especially for some fans, the songs are weaker when they're not part of that package. Think Dark Side of the Moon - some of the singles are cool, but it's the album in its entirety that is sooo interesting. Also, of course, albums tend to be recorded in sessions, so each will have a slightly different feel and sound about it that may not sit comfortably with tracks from a different session.

Of course, for the consumer who's only interested in collections of the latest and greatest hits from various artists in the top 40, this does not apply. However, one of the lessons of recent music industry experience has been that that those consumers are not as dominant as they once were, and that the older, more discerning (and wealthier) music fan is a very lucrative market.

Perhaps it's safer to say that the album as a unit of consumption may not be quite such a dominant force for much longer. Certainly, there are much more interesting questions about marketing and promotion using singles that arise from these development. Some other time I'll examine those.

Posted by Hughie at February 20, 2006 9:43 AM

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