Would You Pay More For This Song? Earlier this month, online music retailers like Amazon and iTunes switched to a new pricing system. Blogger Mario Armstrong joined NPR's Renee Montagne to talk about how the changes will affect consumers and the industry.
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Would You Pay More For This Song?

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Would You Pay More For This Song?

Would You Pay More For This Song?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Music recording companies are also trying to figure out how to cut their losses or even make more money selling tunes over the Internet. So if you've downloaded music in the last couple of weeks, you may have noticed your downloads have gone up in price. That's because earlier this month, after prodding by big music labels, online music stores like iTunes and Amazon switched to a new pricing system. To talk about how the change will affect the industry and consumers, we called our technology commentator Mario Armstrong, who spends a lot of time downloading.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, thanks for having here.

MONTAGNE: All right. So now that many of the top hits are, what, $1.29…

ARMSTRONG: That's right.

MONTAGNE: …instead of $.99, 30 percent higher, if some songs are cheaper and others more expensive, would this all even out for consumers, or - well, of course, it would if they liked old songs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: That's right. So let's explain the pricing a little bit. For most services, around $.69 are for older songs, $.99 are for your newer songs. And then those that are considered popular songs are the ones that are kind at this premium price. So there are many people on my blog and in Twitter that are telling me, hey, look, in this economy, I think this is a bad idea. I am actually going to now shop around for my music. So I don't know if this will actually equal out.

MONTAGNE: Well, Mario, where could someone shop around? I mean, could, say, Wal-Mart lower its price - its top premium price is $1.19, instead of $1.29?

ARMSTRONG: And that's the question that everyone's asking, because there is that flexibility now. This variable pricing opens up those discussions with the artist, with the music labels, with the distributors to start really saying, hey, we can analyze and track these music sales by the second. Maybe we can start doing shifts by the moment in the pricing. So absolutely, you could start seeing price wars and sales and all types of things. But one thing is for sure, Renee: Amazon had a competitive advantage for a good little while over Apple's iTunes. And that was they were offering digital music, which - at a - what was called DRM-free, which is Digital Rights Management-free.

And essentially, Renee, that means you could buy a song from Amazon and move that song to any particular mp3 player of your choice. You were locked back in the day to Apple's, only their iPod players. Now that's changed. And that's a significant announcement that's being made that kind of finds itself under this whole headline of variable pricing. But to me, the bigger announcement is that iTunes has now gone DRM-free for all of their content, and that's going to make a significant competitive advantage in the market place for digital music downloads.

MONTAGNE: Well, Mario what about the artists? How does this pricing change affect artists?

ARMSTRONG: You know, the artists aren't really, they're tired of all this gizmology, I call it. It's just too confusing for them. They want to be artists. They want to perform, create music, do their craft. Hopefully, I'm thinking a interesting side effect of this could be that more independent artists that aren't on that Top 100 list or most popular list, since their prices for their music will be conceivably lower, that may impact their ability to get more notoriety.

MONTAGNE: So someone's looking around, wanting a bargain, and then they think let me try this.

ARMSTRONG: That's right. I mean, and that's totally conceivable that could happen. I mean, we're in the tough economy. People are actually counting their dollars and cents. And because of lot of these storefronts allow you to see similar purchases, or if I like Bruce Springsteen, you may like this artist. Or if I like U2, you may like this artist. That, I think, is going to uncover a new artist that we haven't heard of before. And I'm hoping that that's a positive side effect for the music industry.

MONTAGNE: Mario Armstrong is MORNING EDITION's regular technology commentator. He also hosts the radio show the Digital Cafe on Baltimore Public Radio station WYPR. Hey, and thanks for your coming back.

ARMSTRONG: Oh, it's always a pleasure to come back. Thanks for having me.

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