mFlow’s 20p-a-track Sale

Music streaming and downloading site mFlow has been having a January sale.  For a few days, they reduced the price of all downloads to 20p a song, or 20p x the number of songs for the whole album.  It’s resulted in something of a feeding frenzy; I think I bought ten albums altogether; and judging by the steady stream of credit notification emails I’ve been getting, many others have been doing the same thing.  20p for a song or two or three quid for an album is well within impulse-buying territory in a way a £7.99 album is not.

My purchases included a couple of lesser back-catalogue albums I’ve only got on vinyl from Rainbow and Blue Öyster Cult, a few albums I’d passed on when they came out, such as a couple of recent Marillion live albums, and “After” by Scandinavian metal artist Ihsahn, which I decided to check out since it had appeared in several people’s end-of-year lists. I flowed on track from that with the words “This album is so awesome I feel guilty for paying only £1.60 for it”, and promptly got three 20% commissions for further sales!

Since I’ve seen both The Reasoning and Mostly Autumn coming up in my credit notification emails, I do wonder how artists feel about their work being sold for such low prices – I do remember one RPG writer I won’t name being not at all impressed to find one of his works in the remaindered bin at Stabcon a few years back.  But surely any revenue is better than none, and gets there music heard by people who might not otherwise have listened.  From such beginnings, fandom can start, if the music is awesome enough.

It does make we wonder what the rational price for MP3 downloads ought to be nowadays.  This year I’ve paid everything from that £1.60 for the download of the Ihsahn album, to well over double the price of a regular CD  for the pre-order special edition of “Go Well Diamond Heart” by Mostly Autumn, and I really can’t say that either was not a “fair” price.  In one case I was taking a gamble on a completely unheard-of band, with only Dom Lawson’s word for whether it was any good, and the other was a fan pre-order for an album which would not have been possible to record otherwise.

Time will tell what sort of pricing strategy labels and artists will take in the future.  It may well be that with universal “always on” internet connections we’ll all move towards streaming anyway.  But I think the days of pricing album downloads so as not to undermine CD sales are almost certainly numbered.

What does anyone else think?

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4 Responses to mFlow’s 20p-a-track Sale

  1. Ade says:

    As someone who was browsing Amazon’s progressive rock album downloads in the £3-4 category for some new, cheap music to sample, I’d say you have a point. I downloaded one album for £3.45 and I intend to buy the physical CD formats for both this and its predecessor from the artist’s web site soon as a result, spending a further £16. I added a further CD to my wishlist and I will keep an eye out for future releases by the band behind the third album I downloaded. I prefer to buy CDs so I have a tangible ‘hard’ copy of the music, but I take fewer risks if I’m spending the extra. However, I will take a chance on an MP3 if it is a reduced cost or the CD was otherwise unavailable in the UK. I certainly wouldn’t expect to pay full CD price for a set of audio files lacking artwork and a physical form.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    I can’t see why bands can’t bundle a .pdf or whatever with the artwork and liner notes with the album downloads – you can digitise that just as you can with the actual music.

  3. Ade says:

    There’s no reason why not, certainly – just very few seem to do it in my experience. (Also, Amazon doesn’t currently offer the option – but it is a good source of album cover images for homemade sleeves!)

  4. Bethnoir says:

    a bit late to this one, it is a very interesting question. I too sampled a few things for 20p I wouldn’t have bought at full price and mopped up a few tracks I’d heard on Spotify and wanted to own.

    A band I like, Secrets for September have released a few download only singles that buyers can get for free or choose a price. They just ask that if it is taken for free people publicise the music to friends. I have paid for them, but I wonder if this strategy will work. As someone who can’t get to many gigs, l like to support artists I like by buying a CD rather than to download something, but maybe I’m in a minority these days?