The “truth” behind Whitney’s song price increases

Ever since the death of Whitney Houston, the twitter-sphere has been abuzz with stories about price hikes on her songs. For example, the iTunes Music Store now has a large number of her songs on the highest pricing tier. So does Amazon. This is being seen as an example of greed by Apple or by Sony (the latter for the people who realise that its the labels that set the price, not Apple).

However, it’s not as cynical as a label cashing in on the death of an almost forgotten music star who hasn’t sold very much for the last decade. (Seriously – when was the last time before a week ago that you bought or even listened to a Whitney Houston song?) I am willing to bet that nobody at Apple or Sony said “let’s raise the price for the Bodyguard song!”. Instead, what people are seeing is automatic price settings.

The pricing of songs at digital music stores – such as, but not exclusively, the iTunes Music Store – often include triggers. “When sales increase by X% or cross this threshold, increase the price to the next level”. These triggers are worked out by the labels – Apple dictate what price points are available, but which one gets used are up to the labels. (Amazon does a similar thing). When sales spikes, the price goes up.

Note that the algorithm doesn’t care about _why_ the price has gone up. Nobody at Sony decided to profit on Whitney Houston’s death explicitly. It just worked out that way.

And it’s not like the labels are completely insensitive either – as of last night, the most popular Whitney Houston song on iTunes (“I Will Always Love You”, aka “the Bodyguard Song”) is back at the mid-tier price point. And that would have been a decision by a human.

Not _everything_ is an example of corporate greed, you know.

Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 20 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 22 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

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