Should Albums Cost $1.50?

When you head to the iTunes store for that latest Katy Perry magic, do you opt for the $9.99 album or the 99 cent single?

Most of us choose the latter. And that's why, according to Rob Dickens, who headed up Warner Music in the UK for more than decade, album prices must be "radically" slashed—to around £1 ($1.50).

Dickens introduced the controversial theory at The City music conference, where he argued that in order for record labels to combat piracy and boost sales, the music industry must make an album just as impulsive of a buy as a single is today. Lowering album prices, he explained, would spark an exponential increase in sales. Dickens predicts that major albums would sell as much as 200 million copies. (The bestselling album of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller, sold only half that.)

"What we need is a revolution," he said. "What we've got is an erosion."

The music industry has good reason to be skeptical of Dickens' radical plan. Yes, album sales have dropped dramatically, but they've been replaced by single sales. Why would labels ever replace that steady stream of revenue by the slashing the price of album, which have significantly higher production costs? What would a single cost — one penny?

At the New Music Seminar in July, Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman suggested a different approach for the industry.

"Historically, the price of an album was five times greater than a single," argued Silverman, who believes setting the price of a single at one-tenth of an album's cost was a mistake. Even $1.29 — the top price on iTunes for a single MP3 — is too low, he contends. "It should've been $1.99, and then we would've seen higher digital album sales because it would've been a bigger discount for buying an album." Based on increased revenue from digital album sales, he says, the $9.99 price tag is becoming more reasonable for consumers.

So will we soon be paying 99 cents for an album, or $1.99 for a single? Both Dickens' and Silverman's theories have their merits. But there's another question: whether albums are an outdated concept in the age of iPods and Pandora.

"The music business historically has been built around albums," said Silverman at the conference. "This album-centrism is like saying the sun revolves around the Earth. We don't listen to albums now; we listen to collections of songs."

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10 Comments

  • getonic

    What if you allowed users to sell their whole album for $1.50 or just the single? Would it be a no brainer for the consumer? Our company offers a platform for users to buy and sell goods for whatever price they'd like

  • Richard Geller

    iTunes pretty much established .99 as a generally acceptable benchmark price for a single download; download albums need to be perceived as falling into a similar value range—probably somewhere around 4.99 - 5.99 - 6.99 range. A percentage of people will pay because it's fair or a good deal, because it would be mean-spirited to steal at that price point and perhaps because it's not worth the hassle. That said some will steal no matter what the price is and so be it. CDs or any other physical media should be higher because of all the associated costs. The bigger issue is that the music industry (in general) has a lousy image with consumers and needs to fix it. I'm not holding my breath.

  • adam hutchison

    total bullshit. thats all I can say, really, and all that needs to be said.

  • Garrett Johnson

    I'm all for any change that would cut the price of albums. I'm a super pirate album collector (61,000 songs, 330GB, all complete albums) and currently the music business is not getting a dime from me for recordings because I don't have the cash to buy full albums and refuse to have a library littered with singles. How are you supposed to judge an artist and develop tastes better than top 40 without listening to more than the single? In my defense I think I more than make up for my pirating in ticket sales, but anyway... a dollar fifty is the price point that would put my Transmission out of commission.

  • Roger

    I have an alternative solution which I wrote about here: http://internetradioworld.com/...

    To summarize, my opinion suggests following what Pink Floyd is currently enforcing with EMI: only allow album sales, not singles. I began buying vinyl in the 70's and we never bought singles: that was a Fifties/Sixties thing. Same thing with CDs until iTunes arrived. Single sales should be restricted to shortened versions of the pre-release hit to promote the album, and be included as a full version in the album so the Consumer is getting something new with every track. This was a very successful model for over 30 years. I believe there are things that can be learned from history. Album price points are the only issue and those can be tested at different amounts. Music must be packaged and not cherry picked.

  • Corey Crossfield

    This is an interesting topic but it misses the reality of the music business. The new music consumer is raised in an age where they can get multiple albums for free instead of paying for them. I do agree with the fact stated in the article about how audiences have gone from album-centric to single-centric but it doesn't hold any relevance to a generation of free. In a generation that consumes massively with little or no time for music retention, why would they waste their money on a single when they can just download the entire thing for free. Music will shift to becoming free and in that lies the true shift of the music business. The different price tiers hold no relevance. Why would you pay for something you can just get for free?

  • Gordon MacKay

    What is the old term? Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water...this is exactly what Rob Dickens (no disrespect Rob) Head of Warner Music in the UK wants to do with the Music Industry.

    Is this a solution or just a panicked reaction? I hate to say it, but the better solution is to raise the price of the single to lower the price gap between the cost of a digital single & a digital album. As an industry we need to create an incentive for the consumer to buy an album.

    No one (Artists & Industry) is making money through sales, so if we take Mr. Dickens' lead; then what is next? Give it away? Prince recently did this with his latest album; yes Prince, U2 any of the large established acts can survive with this. But the development of new artists & music will continue to suffer. I believe we all understand that new artists are becoming a rarity in th9is industry. We need to focus on nurturing new artists, to at least enable them to make their money on the road, otherwise we will be dictated to listen to what the large corporations want us to listen to!

  • Gordon MacKay

    What is the old term? Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water...this is exactly what Rob Dickens (no disrespect Rob) Head of Warner Music in the UK wants to do with the Music Industry.

    Is this a solution or just a panicked reaction? I hate to say it, but the better solution is to raise the price of the single to lower the price gap between the cost of a digital single & a digital album. As an industry we need to create an incentive for the consumer to buy an album.

    No one (Artists & Industry) is making money through sales, so if we take Mr. Dickens' lead; then what is next? Give it away? Prince recently did this with his latest album; yes Prince, U2 any of the large established acts can survive with this. But the development of new artists & music will continue to suffer. I believe we all understand that new artists are becoming a rarity in th9is industry. We need to focus on nurturing new artists, to at least enable them to make their money on the road, otherwise we will be dictated to listen to what the large corporations want us to listen to!

  • Jerry Friedrich

    Interesting, since this has been a topic that always bothered me. In the past albums (CD's) were in the 15-17.99 range when they came out.I always felt this was too high, Recently, I have noticed now they are in the 9.99 - 13.99 range which I still feel is still too high since I have noticed that the number of cuts have been reduced from 14 to 10 on many albums. While ITunes is basically $.99, I believe that is the proper price for a single but the album should be around 5.99. The album should be less expensive than buying the 10 singles.Additionally, if an album is exceptional, a premium of 8.99 should be the price.....but those albums are few and far between.

  • Jamil Buie

    He raises some very strong arguments however I worry that the idea is a bit too drastic. Correcting the mistake of .99 cent single by providing 1.99 albums is akin to asking the ER doc to cut off the other arm after you lost the first one. Better, richer experience afforded by the digital space should be the first course of action. Try to get full ticket then discount until you get a firm number. And lets not even talk about what that might do for artist royalties. Unless the artist is touring like a mad man you've seriously cut their hard cash from points on an album.