It was around this time last year when singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens suffered a self-diagnosed “existential crisis”, imploring in a magazine interview:
“I definitely feel like ‘What is the point? What’s the point of making music anymore?’ I feel that the album no longer has a stronghold or has any real bearing anymore. The physical format itself is obsolete; the CD is obsolete and the LP is kinda nostalgic.
“So, I think the album is suffering and that’s how I’ve always created — I work with these conceptual albums in the long-form. And I’m wondering, what’s the value of my work once these forms are obsolete and everyone’s just downloading music?”
Twelve months, one album and one EP later, Stevens returns with a new 11-track record and it appears the period of discontent has not passed. In a lengthy email sent to fans, Stevens’s independent record label Asthmatic Kitty Records suggests that Amazon is devaluing the work of artists with its bulk discount scheme.
Says the email:
“So. We have it on good authority that Amazon will be selling The Age of Adz for a very low price on release date, not unlike they did with Arcade Fire’s recent (and really terrific) The Suburbs. We’re not 100% sure Amazon will do this, but mostly sure.
“We have mixed feelings about discounted pricing. Like we said, we love getting good music into the hands of good people, and when a price is low, more people buy. A low price will introduce a lot of people to Sufjan’s music and to this wonderful album. For that, we’re grateful.
“But we also feel like the work that our artists produce is worth more than a cost of a latte. We value the skill, love, and time they’ve put into making their records. And we feel that our work too, in promotion and distribution, is also valuable and worthwhile.
“That’s why we personally feel that physical products like EPs should sell for around $7 and full-length CDs for around $10-12 We think digital EPs should sell for around $5 and full-length digital albums for something like $8.
“So you might wonder why we’d ‘allow’ Amazon to sell it for lower than that.
“There are several reasons why, but mostly? It’s because we believe in you. We trust you and in your ability to make your own choice.”
A quick Amazon search shows the sprawling marketplace retailing Stevens’s latest CD, The Age Of Adz, at $13.99 or £6.99 from the UK store. Digital downloads of the albums weren’t live on the site at the time of publication.
Stevens’s record label goes on to point to alternative retailers and distributors of his album – SC Distribution, the exclusive distributor for Asthmatic Kitty Records and other smaller labels, and Bandcamp, a platform allowing artists to become the retailer and sell directly to fans – both apparently valuing his work at “more than the cost of a latte”, to steal the phrase.
It will be interesting to see the effect of this on sales, we’ll be keeping an eye on it. In the meantime, Stevens might want consider going the way of Peter Gabriel.