Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Louis Armstrong's Hard Promises - Artist vs. Label on Pricing

Businesspeople know that a pricing exercise is tough. If you price a product too high, you may possibly alienate your customers or provide opportunities for competitors. If you price your product too low, you leave money on the table.

Pricing can also affect the image of a product, for good or ill. When dealing with rock musicians, a high price for a product could alienate fans.

This is probably part of what concerns Elvis Costello about the record company's pricing of his latest box set (H/T Robert Patton). In a blog post, Costello discourages fans from buying the box set, which has been priced at over 200 British pounds.

Unfortunately, we at find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire.

All our attempts to have this number revised have been fruitless....

Costello's camp then recommends that people instead purchase a Louis Armstrong box set that is much less expensive, or wait to purchase the Costello product until after the New Year.

If on the other hand you should still want to hear and view the component parts of the above mentioned elaborate hoax, then those items will be available separately at a more affordable price in the New Year, assuming that you have not already obtained them by more unconventional means.

Those unconventional means are outlined in the blog's title, a play on the name of a famous book by Abbie Hoffman.

But this whole episode between Costello and his label reminds me of another artist-label fight - one that happened thirty years ago. And my younger readers should note that the prices quoted in the excerpt below are NOT a misprint or a satire. That was really how much albums cost back then (although the albums were typically shorter, often not topping thirty minutes of music).

MCA executives planned to capitalize on the popularity of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by raising the price on the band's fourth album, Hard Promises, from $8.98 to $9.98. An angry Petty refused to allow it and even threatened to rename the album $8.98. After a month-long standoff, MCA finally agreed to release the album at the lower price.
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