The album’s not dead yet - well, not in Pink Floyd’s case at least. A judge has ruled in favour of the prog rock band, which went to the UK High Court for the right to have its material sold online only the form of albums, not individual singles, which have became the dominant form of digital download.
Pink Floyd’s contract with EMI - which was signed 11 years ago ago, before the online music boom - says its albums must only be sold as a whole and in a set order. EMI argued this applied only to “physical product”, but, according to Justice Andrew Morrit’s ruling, via Bloomberg: “There is nothing in the terms ‘album’ or ‘record’ to suggest they apply to the physical product only.”
So Pink Floyd has taken a major to court to maintain its creative wish (and has further shaken EMI’s increasingly rickety foundation in the process) - but does its victory really mean a resurgence for the album online, or is it just another brick in the wall… ?
—We live in a single world, at least online. Digital singles outsold digital albums in the Floyd’s native UK nearly tenfold last year - likely because collections of songs still feel better on plastic. And 98 percent of British track purchases are now digital.
—But albums are coming back faster. Global single-track growth of only 10 percent last year is causing the industry to worry about a plateauing of its biggest earner - but digital album sales are now growing by 20 percent a year, twice as fast as singles, IFPI says. In percentage terms, there’s more opportunity for digital migration growth from what is still a considerably analogue segment.
—Digital stores aren’t geared to albums: iTunes Store atomised the album industry, and other retailers have followed suit. Sure, iTunes Store has “Buy Album” options all over its Pink Floyd page - but, to iTunes, an “album” is just a sales multiplication opportunity - and songs purchased can be played in any order buyers want. Apple’s “deluxe” iTunes LP - offering albums with artwork and multimedia extras - seemed like a reluctant concession to labels for exploding the album as a form; stocks a paltry less-than-30 releases, as Gigaom observes. Still, the IFPI says the iTunes LP version of Michael Bublé‘s latest release outsold the standard edition 3:1 this way.
—What about new models? Much consumption is set to move to the cloud or, otherwise, to ad-supported platforms. It’s unclear whether a contract like Pink Floyd’s accounts for music that isn’t “sold” but, rather, streamed or subscribed to. Even if a la carte retailers are forced to offer true albums for download, what’s the equivalent of “album” in a streaming environment? Being forced to listen to all 43 minutes of Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety and in its intended order?
—Artists are embracing the single: Not every artist will put art before income as Pink Floyd have done, nor will necessarily feel that bundling is an artistic consideration. Former EMI band Radiohead, too, was, for many years, creatively opposed to track-by-track downloads - but it’s now relented (indeed, last time around, it even released the individual stem components of songs for fans to remix). This case could prompt similar actions from a small number of acts who feel the same way as the Floyd, if they have a similar old contract - but it’s likely most will just take the royalties.