Major Labels Still Ambivalent about iTunes

Dec. 18, 2008
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Chinese Democracy wasn't the only casualty of a misguided "no iTunes" marketing strategy. After bolstering hard-copy sales of Kid Rock's latest album by pulling it from iTunes, this year Atlantic Records became overzealous and briefly pulled the debut album from its heat-seeking R&B artist Estelle, whose "American Boy" single had serious momentum at the time. Unsurprisingly, the album's sales went into a freefall, and for a time, a generic cover of "American Boy" charted above Estelle's actual version, since the cover was the only one patrons could buy on iTunes. Ouch. The failed experiment shows how uneasy labels remained with the idea of iTunes this year, but also how badly they needed the service. Idolator, which covered the snafu ad nausem this year, sums it up:
Sure—for the Kid, the anti-digital maneuvering worked: Rock’s physical disc sales were pumped up by some 1,550,000 CDs, 65% of the album’s total, after his Zevon-Skynyrd mashup’s release to radio. But mostly he and Atlantic managed to prove the same thing Sony and Wal-Mart proved later in the year with their smash AC/DC album exclusive: rock acts with aging fan bases can afford to buck trends, including those engendered by the Device You Are Currently Looking At; for pop-oriented developing acts like Estelle, not so much.
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