Tuesday, December 14, 2004

WalMart Rules!

A friend of mine here at work sent me this Rolling Stone article, published back in October. I was fascinated by it, intrigued by it, horrified by it, and excited by it, all at once.

It’s all about how WalMart is trying to dictate the prices of CD’s. They’re essentially demanding that the labels distribute the CD’s at under $10.

First of all, I was excited to see someone finally tell the record labels that the people want music to be less expensive. I remember when CD’s first came out, they were $20. We were told that as the format became more prevalent, the prices would drop to be similar to what LP’s were going for at the time. Did that ever happen? Nope. Even though they did drop some, it was no surprise that they never got that low.

Even now, with people beginning to accept $1 downloads instead of stealing the songs for free, the lower-price models are starting to become necessary!

Second, I was horrified that a business that has so little long-term interest in the music industry has so much power over it. The article said, “…Because if Wal-Mart cut back on music, industry sales would suffer severely -- though Wal-Mart's shareholders would barely bat an eye. While Wal-Mart represents nearly twenty percent of major-label music sales, music represents only about two percent of Wal-Mart's total sales. ‘If they got out of selling music, it would mean nothing to them,’ says another label executive. ‘This keeps me awake at night.’"

But since WalMart sells a lot more than just music, they don’t have to do any special effort to help promote or develop artists. No signings, no special co-op advertising, nothing.

Third, I was intrigued by the shift in the music industry. Intrigued means both frightened and excited at the same time, by the same thing. For example, a typical record store, according to this article, carries about 70,000 titles. A single WalMart, however, only carries about 5000 titles. That means that there will be fewer places for less-popular artists, and the big names will rule the shelves. A kind of scary thought for a small-timer.

But on the other hand, that also means that will drive more people to online sources of music, which will be good for the indies who are already accessing that medium to great advantage.

In WalMart’s defense, I’ve seen some local LDS artists in their Christian section, as well as some Christian indie labels and artists, too. For example, I got my Toby Mac and Superchick(s) CD’s both at WalMart.

And while I’m thinking of that, it brings me to my Fourth Point, I’m a little bit glad for the censorship that WalMart brings with it. WalMart, pretty much, only stocks the edited versions of the extreme CD’s. Their clout has caused music producers to create two versions of the music. One for general release, with the warning label, and one for WalMart.

This is truly an exciting time to be a musician.

Mark Hansen


  1. Perhaps Walmart could also make some headway to cleancut movie DVDs (as they apparently have with music CDs, according to your post).

  2. Walmart has some good things going for it. Requiring artists to release clean versions is good. But Some of thier censorship is very arbitrary. John Mellencamp released Mr. Happy Go Lucky there was an angel and a devil standing beside them. Walmart required them to remove the Devil from the cover art.

    This is entirely within their right as a consumer to not buy or resell what they don't like, but the conflict with Wal-Mart divides even deeper.

    Walmarts pricing practice is good to some degree but thier requirement for companies to meet a specific cost is what drives most companies to move production over seas. Several specials on PBS and CNN delve into this problem of a Wal-Mart Nation. Rubbermaid was put out of business and forced to sell the company and close thier local plant that had been the lifeblood of the community for years.

    You also hit on a major point of music sales. At 5000 labels where do local artists fit in? As long as prices are low, I guess I'll shop there. But I hope that other companies can compete and the Wal-Mart execs will pay more attention to the angel on thier shoulders than the devil they wanted to banish.



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