If I see anything else that tries to frame the front of the iTunes Store as a potential scandal, I’m gonna hurl. There’s nothing wrong with iTunes, as a content aggregator, choosing how to allocate its promotional inventory.
Brick-and-mortar stores charge hefty fees to get record company product on endcaps. Many analysts believe that pay-for-placement endcap and promos kept Tower Records alive during its last few years. Ultimately, ARTISTS pay for this promotion from their recoupable expenses.
Meanwhile, radio stations ALWAYS favor artists in their playlists who make promotional appearances for the station (as long as no money changes hands, that’s legal). If you have a good publicist and a clever road manager, you can make these things happen in the dead spaces between sound check and dinner, and usually end up getting free food at the station while you’re at it. (Is every radio station visit fun? No. But it’s better than a $10,000 spot buy to promote a show or an album.)
So if iTunes turns this precedent on its ear and requests fun bonus tracks and interviews from artists in exchange for promo placement, I say that’s great.
First, to managers and label execs: If you’re depending on any one outlet for all of your revenue, you’re beyond screwed. Yes, there’s a correlation between being on the iTunes front page and enjoying some impulse sales. But there’s a bigger correlation between offering better value and selling more units. (Why are record label executives surprised to learn that digital “box sets” priced under $25 sell far more than the same physical product priced above $50? DUH!)
Anybody can use iTunes to jumpstart their music career, just by registering with CDBaby. Smart independent musicians are finding new audiences though iTunes by recording clever covers of popular songs or writing songs that incorporate popular artists’ names in the titles to get into search results. Is that cheesy? Maybe. In many ways, it’s a way of creatively embracing constraints to get a great result.
If I were running a record label and got a chance to get my artist on the front page of iTunes, I’d strap a camera to someone and turn ’em loose. Any artist will tell you they’ll gladly do an acoustic set in a conference room if it means they can see fewer recoupable expenses fly out the door.