Prince CD Sparks Debate


By Ed Christman and Geoff Mayfield

Instead of “Musicology,” Prince should have gone back into his catalog and named his new album “Controversy.”

That is what he is once again stirring up as he distributes “Musicology” free to fans at his shows. Nielsen SoundScan is counting those copies as sales.

Of the 191,000 copies of “Musicology” Nielsen SoundScan tracked for the week ending April 18, 12,600 — 6% — were counted from his April 21 concert in Columbia, S.C.

The album hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Even without the concert CDs, Prince would have achieved that chart position.

While Nielsen SoundScan traditionally has captured sales at concerts, it usually does so by counting albums sold at merchandising tables. This is the first time it has counted sales where a concert attendee gets an album as part of the ticket price.

Every show on the Prince tour, which opened in March and is expected to last until August, likely will see copies of “Musicology” distributed to attendees. To date, 250,000 copies have been distributed during the tour, reports L. Londell McMillan, Prince’s attorney.

CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

From McMillan’s point of view, Nielsen SoundScan’s first-week sales should have included all the albums distributed through the tour so far.

With this distribution method, Prince “is challenging the status quo,” McMillan says.

While Prince is applauded for using that unique channel, label sales and distribution executives appear split on whether the sales should be included in Nielsen SoundScan totals.

“I am violently against this,” one senior distribution executive says. “This is worse than 49 cent singles. The charts are supposed to represent what consumers are spending money on. With the Prince album, there is no choice.”

Another distribution executive says, “It’s opening Pandora’s box. It will be one more way for record companies to have to spend too much money in an attempt to influence a chart, and you can imagine that everyone will dive in and have a CD with a purchase of everything, let alone concert tickets.”

But Phil Quartararo, executive VP of EMI Recorded Music North America, disagrees, saying Prince’s concert sales should absolutely be counted.

“A sale is a sale,” he says. “Our job is to put music in the consumers’ hands, when, where and how they want it. The music company of the future has to be able to sell through conventional means as well as nontraditional ways.”

Sony Music Entertainment distributes the new album. In a statement, the company said, “To ensure that SoundScan numbers accurately reflect the realities of the marketplace, it makes sense that sales of ‘Musicology’ generated through ticket buys are included in their tally.”

Nielsen SoundScan CEO Rob Sisco wonders what all the fuss is about.

He asks how the company could not count the concert sales. “The manufacturer was paid by the promoter, who is reselling the merchandise to the consumer,” he says. “Given that there is a sale … with the album ending up in the hands of the consumer, and we can confirm this, we feel we should count the sales.”

Sisco notes that Prince’s approach is new and carries a certain degree of controversy.

“This is an ongoing process,” he says. “Our goal is to count every possible legitimate music sale but at the same time to engage in an open dialogue with the music industry on how best to accomplish that.”

PRINCE SETS PACE

Meanwhile, Prince’s “Musicology” move already is being duplicated.

According to a press release, Virgin Records, Clear Channel Entertainment and PromoWest will allow fans in select markets on the band Gomez’s tour to “opt in” and buy the band’s new album.

Fans can either buy a ticket to the show or pay $10 more to purchase a package that includes its “Split the Difference” album and exclusive downloads from the concert they attend.

Label executives mainly see heritage acts as being able to afford to duplicate the Prince strategy. In fact, some label executives already report that managers of such bands are fascinated by the concept.

“Take this to its logical conclusion: A dinosaur act that no longer sells records but does great live business can do a stadium tour over the summer and dominate the Billboard 200,” one label executive says.

The debut week for “Musicology” represents Prince’s largest sales week — 191,000 copies — since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. His previous best SoundScan week was set in that same year, when his album with the New Power Generation, “Diamonds and Pearls,” bowed at No. 5 with 172,000 copies.

Credit: Reuters

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One Response to “ Prince CD Sparks Debate ”

  1. This is very exciting to me. I don’t know why it has taken so long for record companies to figure out how to increase CD sales through inclusion in a ticket package. Bargains boast sales. Just look at the success of Avril Lavigne, she sold her CD at a deep discount making it climb the charts faster.

    I would be happy if in a fan club package I could get a cd, a baby tee, 4 beer vouchers, two concert tickets and a signed sticker or poster for $100

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