Deal with the Dark Side

Yet another recording artist has gone to the dark side. Bruce Springsteen’s new album will be released as a Wal-mart exclusive.

Sure, there are pros. The process of releasing directly from musician to distributor, in some cases, enables the band to both reap a greater profit from the release and price the product at a more consumer-friendly price. You can buy an album for $12.

Big deal. My time and integrity are worth something, too.

I purely detest shopping at Wal-mart for a multitude of reasons. When Walmart moves into a community, they drop prices and hurt local business – when competition is gone, they raise prices again to the prevailing market rate. The least-price-product model means limited variety of low quality – lots of trinkets and trash. The company pays below-poverty-level wages and its employees are, in Washington, the single largest consumer of state Medicaid services. And on a personal level, the store is incredibly inconvenient, crowded, cluttered and dirty, with undertrained and overworked staff – shopping there is a fairly unpleasant experience.

Janiece said it best with her “E” avatar:

One does not simply walk into Walmart. There is evil there that does not sleep.

This trend of releasing directly and exclusively to Walmart is disturbing. These artists will NOT be getting my business. The first three pages of a Google search on “wal-mart exclusive music” indicates that they include:

  • Bruce Springsteen
  • AC/DC (ok, I caved there, but shouldn’t have)
  • Eagles
  • Garth Brooks
  • Josh Groban
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Nickelback
  • Shakira
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

What this means for them is that their music cannot be downloaded. (This was part of AC/DC’s objective – they feel that single-song downloads hurt the album-as-art-form.) It can’t be sold by independent music stores. It can’t be easily purchased by those with no Wal-mart in their community, although Wal-mart does have an online, e-commerce interface like any other giant retailer.

Interestingly enough, there are reports of some independent music stores buying up albums by these artists at Walmart and reselling them at minimal markup, unopened, in their own store, just so they can offer their customers a complete artist’s oeuvre.

I can’t believe that anti-competitive, exclusive deals are, in the end, good for the consumer, no matter what the current price point looks like.

8 Responses to “Deal with the Dark Side”

  1. Bryan Says:

    I don’t know that I think this is such a bad thing. I wish it wasn’t Wal-Mart doing this, but the concept of the retailer getting an exclusive in exchange for making the music cheaper saves money for consumers. One would hope, but I seriously doubt, that what the labels and artists would realize that reducing the price would net them more sales and probably more money. Anything that reduces the price of new music (within reason) strikes me as ok, though.

  2. Eric Says:

    Oh, ye of little faith….

    Bruce’s Wal-Mart album is a greatest hits record, and (unless I missed something) and absolutely inessential one (at least the Boss’ first Greatest Hits had “Streets Of Philadelphia,” the studio version of “Murder, Inc.,” and several E-Street Band reunion tracks).

    If you don’t buy this one, you’ll be missing nothing unless you’re such a Boss completist that you need the cover on your shelf or you’ll feel an aching hole in your heart (there are such people).

    I despise Wal-Mart and haven’t been inside of one in years. I’d certainly prefer musicians not to make exclusive deals with them. That said, I’m not inclined to get too upset about it. And, frankly, in the case of the Springsteen hits package, it’s not an album I was likely to buy (and I am a Springsteen devotee; it’s just there’s too much other music I want to buy to spend the money on a re-package of songs I already own).

    Springsteen’s next real album, the follow-up to Magic, should be available for general release unless I missed something.

  3. Eric Says:

    The tracklist for the Wal-Mart exclusive hits package:

    1. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
    2. Born To Run
    3. Thunder Road
    4. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
    5. Badlands
    6. Hungry Heart
    7. Glory Days
    8. Dancing In The Dark
    9. Born In The U.S.A.
    10. The Rising
    11. Lonesome Day
    12. Radio Nowhere

    The tracklist for Working On A Dream, due in all stores January 27, 2009:

    1. Outlaw Pete
    2. My Lucky Day
    3. Working on a Dream
    4. Queen of the Supermarket
    5. What Love Can Do
    6. This Life
    7. Good Eye
    8. Tomorrow Never Knows
    9. Life Itself
    10. Kingdom of Days
    11. Surprise, Surprise
    12. The Last Carnival

    Bonus tracks:
    The Wrestler
    A Night with the Jersey Devil

    squee!

  4. Vince Says:

    With all due respect, welcome to capitalism at it’s finest.

    I’m not convinced that these exclusive deals help as much as the artists and/or their labels believe they do – I’ve seen no studies one way or the other. But a lot of people don’t live near a Wal-Mart, as you noted. I don’t – the nearest one is well over an hour away, and I won’t make that drive just to get a CD. Add in my gas, and the price jumps significantly, not to mention what my time is worth. And Wal-Mart’s online experience isn’t that great. Neither is Target’s, which I’ve also tried.

    The primary reason Wal-MArt hurts local business is that too many local businesses have yet to learn how to successfully compete with a “Big Box.” They are unwilling or unable to make the changes needed to survive.

    Several years ago I went to a music industry conference in Nashville that had a great presentation on just that topic. While aimed at independent music stores selling/renting instruments, the presenter gave three examples of independents thriving in the face of a nearby “Big Box” – an independent guitar store with a Guitar World just over a mile away, an independent hardware store with a Menards less than a mile away, and I can’t remember the third at the moment.

    All three had increased foot traffic and sales despite the direct competition of the Big Box stores close by, and the presenter went into detail on how they did so. While this was a several hour presentation, his point was this – independents can not compete with the Big Boxes at what they do best – price. To compete and survive, small business needs to be strong where the Big Boxes are weak.

    How is this done? In the guitar store example, the independent used it’s strengths against Guitar World’s weaknesses. For example, Guitar World does not give lessons, and does not repair instruments. The independent does both, and even got the Guitar World manager tot allow him to place brochures in the store about the lessons and repair services.

    The independent converted the store basement into a stage, and offered weekly free jam sessions, and if someone didn’t have an instrument, he had guitars people could use at the jam. His repairs are done in front of a large window where people can see what they do.

    And all those kids that want to touch the guitars that so many stores don’t allow? He uses those kids. Lets them test guitars he knows they can’t afford. Because eventually either they, or their parents, will be able to. And the kids remembered how they were treated, and when it came time to buy, they bought from him. Further, he used the kids as word-of-mouth promoters of sales and services, used the kids to distribute flyers, all in exchange for free time to try out guitars.

    His business is booming.

    Finally, the presenter stressed that even in the best of times, about 20% of people buy on price alone. He told all those participants that these people were not their customers, and to quit wasting resources on them. This meshed with a marketing course I took in college, where the professor, who had years of real-world marketing experience, stressed that low price could kill a business, as someone can always undercut you in price.

    The presenter had a lot of other great ideas as well, with concrete examples from businesses who had successfully implemented them.

    Yes, Wal-Mart has done evil. I’m not sure there’s a major corporation that hasn’t, including “Do No Evil” Google. In my opinion, it’s the nature of large establishments with lots of people, some of whom themselves are evil, or are just plain stupid. But Wal-Mart is no worse than any of these.

    Small businesses can and do successfully compete with Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target/Super Target, Best Buy, etc. Little Ely has a very successful business, for example, that sells higher end audio and video equipment. Custom Theaters of Ely doesn’t even try to match the Best Buy/Wal-Mart/Target/Kmart prices. What they offer is service – they’ll help you determine what works best for you, they install what they sell (including car audio systems) and they install and deliver within a 150 mile range. They’re not just surviving, they’re making money and looking to expand.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents worth.

  5. Bill Says:

    Here is an example that came across my desk today of a company choosing not to do business with Wal-Mart because they felt it hurt their company. Husqvarna does the same with Home Depot. High-end products don’t belong there. If consumers choose to buy good products from competent retailers for a fair price, then Wal-Mart will have to change.

    http://www.fastcompany.com/node/54763/print

  6. Bill Says:

    Oh, and another point. Wal-Mart didn’t kill those local businesses. We did, by choosing to focus on price to the exclusion of everything else.

  7. slatrat Says:

    Other than The Boss, there’s no one else on the Wall Mart exclusive list that is really the creme de la creme(IMHO :-) ). I do find it very out of character for Bruce to do an exclusive with Wall Mart. Even if it is just his greatest hits.

  8. Working On A Dream blog Says:

    Working On A Dream Bruce Springsteen…

    …The new Bruce Springsteen disc, ‘Working On A Dream’, is published January 27th. I have had the possibility of hearing it but I had to listen to it on headphones……