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?