Last week, Lady Gaga's new album Born This Way sold a monstrous (by today's standards, anyway) 1.15 million copies. That platinum status came partially thanks to Amazon, which offered her album for a dirt-cheap 99 cents, and, after its servers crashed from demand, sold roughly 440,000 digital copies.
Undoubtedly, what consumers love more than a Lady Gaga album is a Lady Gaga album that only costs 99 cents. Does this give credence to a theory that says albums, like singles, should only cost a buck?
According to Rob Dickens, who headed up Warner Music in the U.K. for more than a decade, album prices ought to be "radically" cut—to around £1 ($1.50). Dickens introduced the controversial theory in October at The City music conference, where he urged record labels to combat piracy and boost sales by making albums as much of an impulse buy as a single is today. Reducing album prices, he said, would ignite a boom in sales: Dickens predicted that major albums could sell as many as 200 million copies.
Now Gaga herself is throwing more fuel on that argument. When asked whether she thought her album was worth more than 99 cents, the pop star told the The Wall Street Journal, "No, I absolutely do not, especially for MP3s and digital music."
"It’s invisible. It’s in space," she added. "If anything, I applaud a company like Amazon for equating the value of digital versus the physical copy, and giving the opportunity to everyone to buy music."
Still, as Gaga pointed out, her album wasn't actually 99 cents—the sales price was supplemented by Amazon. Hence, the 99-cent offering wasn't so much a promotion for Gaga as it was for Amazon, which was showing off its cloud music service (or trying to).
Gaga's massive first-week sales, however, suggest there is still room for album sales—if the artist is popular enough. While offering the album for only 99 cents on Amazon might've boosted her sales, it's clear that consumers were willing to pay more: About 700,000 copies of Born This Way were sold at full price. And that's not to mention that sales of the 99-cent offering were nowhere near the hundreds of millions of copies predicted by Dickens.
Single sales have eclipsed album sales in recent years, and there's always the nagging question of whether albums are an outmoded concept in the age of iPhones and Pandora. Even at 99 cents, perhaps consumers are more interested in downloading singles than they are albums.
"The music business historically has been built around albums," said Tom Silverman, the founder of Tommy Boy Records, at a conference in July. "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."
[Image: Flickr user Thomas Hawk]