Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

iTunes Michael Jackson Policy: Want the Song? Buy the Album.

michael-jacksonWant to get Michael Jackson’s new single? You will be able to get it on iTunes this month, contrary to earlier reports. But there’s a catch: You’re going to have to buy some of the late singer’s other songs, too.

That’s the pact that Apple (AAPL) and Sony (SNE) have reached this week over the upcoming release of the Jackson’s newest stuff: Anyone who wants to buy a copy of “This Is It,” the song, via iTunes will also have to buy some extended-play version of “This Is It,” the album

Here’s the official word from Apple, following a couple days’ worth of erroneous and confusing reports (one of which I wrote):

We look forward to offering the new Michael Jackson album, as well as a digital-only EP with six previously unreleased tracks, providing fans a great way to get all of the new songs. The iTunes Store will offer the album-only single “This Is It” on both the album and EP starting October 26.

To spell that out: Apple will not be selling the single by itself.

That’s an unusual arrangement for Apple, which generally insists that labels sell their music on a track-by-track basis. If the labels had their way, they would consistently force customers to buy an entire album for $10 or more. No word on pricing yet, but it’s a fair bet to assume that even the six-song EP will sell for more than $1.29, Apple’s highest price for an individual song.

Apple does make an occasional exception here and there. For instance, many of the songs on iTunes soundtracks are only available as part of an album. But while “This Is It” does accompany a movie by the same name, it’s not technically a soundtrack, so that’s not what’s going on here.

Sony has sold a staggering amount of Jackson’s stuff since his death last summer, so it’s possible that Apple is simply trying to take advantage of what appears to be insatiable demand. But that doesn’t sound right to me: Even a huge hit on iTunes does very little for Apple’s books.

My guess: Apple maintains a vise-grip on the digital sales, but every now and then likes to throw the labels a bone. For instance, it used to insist that all of the labels sell all of their songs for 99 cents, but earlier this year, Apple changed its policy and now offers three different price points.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik