LA Times March 31, 2004 New sales strategy: Give it away
Prince, never afraid of trying something new, is handing out copies of his yet-to-be-released CD to concertgoers. By Randy Lewis, Times Staff Writer
Will pop music fans buy the cow if they can get the milk free?
Prince is raising that question with an unusual campaign in which everyone who buys a ticket to his current concert tour gets a promotional copy of his upcoming album, "Musicology," upon entering the arena.
Technically the milk isn't free. Tickets, which range from $47 to $75 in most cities, are priced to include the cost of the CD, although it's not considered a formal sale of the album. Thus, the CDs will not be tallied by Nielsen SoundScan, whose figures determine the national album sales chart.
The big question is whether the plain-wrap CD handed out to as many as 400,000 fans over the next few months will hurt sales of the full package that Columbia Records will release on April 20.
"I tend to think it could cannibalize sales," says Geoff Mayfield, charts editor for Billboard. "If the only difference is that [the concert CD] didn't have finished artwork, I think it's only the really serious fan that's going to purchase it again."
Dave Alder, vice president of product and marketing for the Virgin record store chain, says, "Anything that breaks the mold of the traditional music business model is worth trying at this stage in the game," alluding to the troubled climate for record sales. "I don't think we can afford to be close-minded."
Tower Records Southwest region director Bob Feterl sees some merit in the strategy of handing out CDs to build word of mouth, especially since Prince has been largely out of the pop spotlight for years.
"I don't think it's going to be a trend," Feterl says. "But a lot of radio people are going to these shows, and other people who don't usually buy things, so it might help start the buzz on his next record.
"But I'd hate to see him do this with the next record, after he's toured the whole U.S."
Columbia Senior Vice President of Urban Publicity Yvette Noel-Schure said Prince had finished the album and that plans for a concert tour were well underway before he was signed to the label.
She said the distribution of the stripped-down CD — in a cardboard slipcover with just song titles — will continue at least through any more concerts that are announced through April 20.
More than 40 shows, mostly at sports arenas with capacities of 10,000 to 19,000, have already been announced.
Prince's recent deal with Columbia is his first major label record contract in more than a decade.
In 1993 he announced his retirement from studio recording, just seven months after signing a new $60 million deal with his longtime label, Warner Bros. Records.
I think it's a great pick, but if history will repeat itself, it means we're not even going to hear him on the first album he plays on (we're already not going to hear him on the forthcoming one, since we're not going to hear Bob Rock).