Mil­i­tary mar­ket­ing ma­noevres briefly put­md­naat the top

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

IT’S RECORD STORE Day to­mor­row, an event that with each pass­ing year takes on a more poignant ap­peal. Where else but in a record store would you ob­serve the young mu­sic fan flick­ing through the “B” rack of al­bums and loudly shout­ing over the aisle to his friend: “Hey, Jeff, did you know Paul Mccart­ney was in a band be­fore Wings?”.

There’s plenty go­ing on to­mor­row in in­de­pen­dent Ir­ish record shops, but for the crit­i­cal mass it’s all about Sound­cloud, Youtube, Band­camp and Spo­tify. And the man­ner in which over­the-counter al­bum sales have de­te­ri­o­rated be­yond be­lief is ex­em­pli­fied this week by Madonna set­ting a new world record for the big­gest ever al­bum sales drop in a sec­ond week of sales.

Madge’s MDNA sold 359,000 copies in its first week of re­lease in the US. In week two, though, sales fell by 88 per cent to just 46,000. That kind of mas­sive drop has never hap­pened be­fore.

MDNA’S first week sales were front-loaded by pre-or­ders, a mil­i­tary-style mo­bil­i­sa­tion of Madonna’s on­line fan base and some clever mar­ket­ing chi­canery. The al­bum isn’t very good, but a three-line whip was im­posed on all the mar­keters and dis­trib­u­tors. MDNA had to go in at No 1 – or else.

With Madonna re­fus­ing to do the me­dia shill, a deal was put in place that would en­sure grossly in­flated first-week sales: pun­ters could pick up a live Madonna con­cert ticket and the new al­bum at a spe­cially bun­dled price. Given that she has more pull on the live stage than on vinyl, this added some 185,000 fresh sales to the over­all tally. But take out those “bun­dled” sales and Madonna wouldn’t have made it to No 1. We know about al­bums be­ing loss-lead­ers for a tour, but this is tak­ing it to ex­tremes.

The deal was a “per­for­manceen­hanc­ing” move and, from a mar­ket­ing stand­point, a clever one, be­cause now they can plas­ter “the No 1 sell­ing al­bum” over all fu­ture copies.

Things have now got so des­per­ate for MDNA that you can down­load the full al­bum off ama­zon.com for all of $5. And even in the $5-dol­lar-an-al­bum charts on Ama­zon it’s be­ing out­sold by Ca­role King’s Ta­pes­try – from 1971!

If the Madonna mar­ket­ing “black ops” story doesn’t con­vince you to take part to­mor­row in Record Store Day, then noth­ing will. And do take note of what Ni­co­las Jaar (a fine pur­veyor of pas­sive-am­bi­ent tones and ac­tive post-techno m’lud) is do­ing with his Prism con­cept.

True, Record Store Day sim­ply can’t com­pete with the Sound­cloud/ Youtube/band­camp/spo­tify as­sault. But Jarr has just re­leased a spe­cially de­signed small cube called The Prism that con­tains 12 of his tracks. You can’t play it on a com­puter or phone or any­thing else – you can only lis­ten through The Prism. The idea is to force the lis­tener to ex­pe­ri­ence mu­sic away from other dis­trac­tions: an at­tempt to re­tain phys­i­cal­ity in mu­sic. It’s also de­signed to pro­mote con­nec­tiv­ity as The Prism comes with two head­phone jacks. (See csa.fm/thep­rism. )

“We’re los­ing re­spect for the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of mu­sic” says Jaar. Some­thing Madonna and her mar­ket­ing wonks might want to re­flect upon.

it’s Madonna’s way or the box’s way

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