STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If you needed another sign that the music industry is changing, consider this. Paul McCartney is releasing a new album today, "Memory Almost Full." But he did not produce it with his longtime label EMI. Instead, he signed with Starbucks, which means that up to six million people will hear the album while buying coffee today in Starbucks' thousands of stores around the world.
We're going to talk about this with David Marchese, who writes about music for Salon.com. Welcome to the program.
Mr. DAVID MARCHESE (Writer, Salon.com): Hi, thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: Why would McCartney put out an album this way?
Mr. MARCHESE: I think it's kind of an interesting example of both a particular artist's desperation, and it's indicative of sort of a slump in the music industry. So I think we're seeing somebody who thinks they should be selling a lot more than they are, sort of butt heads with an industry that's down 20 percent just since last year in terms of CD sales and is looking around and thinking, I need a different way to sell my music.
INSKEEP: McCartney seems to be saying - from your perspective - that it's not my music that's a problem. It's the industry that's a problem. It's the sales mechanism that's a problem. It's falling apart.
Mr. MARCHESE: I think that's absolutely right. And, I mean, he's could - at looking two past examples like the Ray Charles, "Genius Loves Company" album from a couple of years ago that Starbucks sold. And it end up selling, I think, in the neighborhood of five million copies. (unintelligible), you know, I'm sure he thinks I can sell at least as well as Ray Charles.
INSKEEP: Why are sales down 20 percent in the music industry?
Mr. MARCHESE: Well, I mean, I think the obvious answer is peer-to-peer file sharing and illegal downloading and burning CDs (unintelligible) friends. I mean, we're seeing a billion illegal downloaded songs a year, which is more than iTunes are selling every year. So, I mean, that's an obvious chunk of sales being cut out.
INSKEEP: Well now, if you're Paul McCartney and you decide to sell your CDs through Starbucks, how does that avoid that problem?
Mr. MARCHESE: Well, I think he's rightly so thinking where are the people who are likely going to buy a Paul McCartney album going to go? He's thinking, people are going to show up at Starbucks. They're going to be playing my music 24 hours a day. It's going to be right there at the cash register, you know, as I pay for my frappuccino, and he's hoping it's an impulse buy.
INSKEEP: So what are some other creative tactics that people are trying?
Mr. MARCHESE: To increase sales?
Mr. MARCHESE: I actually think that increasing CD sales is becoming something that's increasingly looked at as sort of a secondary, which is why we're seeing increasingly people like, you know, Prince has come out a perfume line and Christina Aguilera has a perfume line. And, you know, people - more and more people who are in movies and have fashion lines. So the CD is sort of just going to become an ancillary part of selling the larger package, which is the artist themself.
INSKEEP: Well now, tell me. Does the music industry have any future at all if you have this fundamental problem where a huge part of their main products can be distributed by different people for free?
Mr. MARCHESE: Some people would say the record industry is going to go away. It's a big - you know, EMI, Capitol Music are going to fade away. I'm actually not sure that's the case. I think they're still making too much money for them to sort of disappear. But obviously, the expectations are going to have to be tempered. A way people might think about this is we need to think about buying music the same way that we purchase water, where, you know, you can pay a minimal fee, taxes or whatever.
And you can get water from your tap. And if you want music or water that's of a higher quality, maybe you'll pay a little more and get a better quality MP3 or access to extras like digital artwork or liner notes. I'm not exactly sure how you'll be able to convince somebody that, you know, liner notes to the new Paul McCartney album are the equivalent of drinking water that comes fresh from Fiji. But, you know, I'm sure there are people at Starbucks who are thinking about how to solve that problem.
INSKEEP: I'm sure there are people at the Starbucks in Fiji listening to Paul McCartney today.
Mr. MARCHESE: Not necessarily by choice.
INSKEEP: David Marchese, thanks very much for stopping by.
Mr. MARCHESE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: David Marchese writes about music for Salon.com.