Here is a story from the Business Guardian about the music industry’s reaction to ‘the artist formerly known as’ ‘Prince’ “giving away” in a bundling deal with the Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK.

The Entertainment Retailers Association said the giveaway “beggars belief”.

In an appalling and misguided attempt at sabre-rattling, ERA co-chairman Paul Quirk has come out, first appealing to his ‘integrity’ to ‘return the favour’ to those who have supported him:

“It would be an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career,”

…before moving on to bemoan the lack of integrity society at large shows in its treatment of the music industry as an artform:

“It would be yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music.

…before finally turning to threaten Prince (but more pointedly other artists) that they would be out of a day job without the retailers:

“The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday.”

A three-pronged attack but with very little substance.

The words smack of a music industry (or retailers in particular) who have seen the huge spike in online sales of music through retail platforms such as i-tunes. Distributors and retailers rightly fear online distribution of music, as it gives artists unprecedented access to markets, and provides users with a way of unbundling or disaggregating what we know as an album: what fans may call a coherent collection of music that mark where the band are at a point in time, while others may see it as a way of up-selling a few good songs by bundling it with a bunch of less-than-stellar tracks, a la the block-selling of films by distributors prior to the Paramount Act.

Take a look at some of the figures Chris Anderson gives in his book The Long Tail. Take a look then not at record sales (which the industry explains are taking a dive due to piracy) but at total earnings from copyright bodies. In Japan, JASRAC has posted annual increases in revenue despite drops in CD retail sales.

It makes me question at first whether such executives realise both the creative industry features and digital content characteristics of the goods they are talking about. But surely they know all too well that with the advent of iTunes and the like, artists can make a living out of being ‘artists formerly [or never] available in record stores’.

On a related note, it was reassuring to see an instance of an artist who uses CDs as a way to promote his music and to focus on earning revenue from concerts. Naturally, not all artists make performance-driven music, but for those who do it makes the digital distribution of music (in both its legal and illegal forms) a positive for the performer who can expect to attract more patrons to their concerts, gigs, raves….