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When Record Stores Attack

Alanis Morissette is under attack by record store owners and chains, with many either refusing to carry or limiting the number of copies of they stock of her latest album, an acoustic version of her 1995 biggest selling album, "Jagged Little Pill." One chain of stores in particular, HMV Canada (Canada's largest chain of music retailers), have gone so far as to pull every copy of every album and DVD they stocked and sent it back to the label for credit and are refusing to stock any Alanis Morissette product whatsoever for an indeterminate length of time according to Humphrey Kadaner, HMV Canada's President. South of the border, in the US, Boston based Newbury Comics, also has responded by pulling Alanis Morissette products off it's shelves, but with only twenty-six stores in it's chain, I, personally, believe that their boycott will hardly have any impact beyond shooting themselves in the foot for lost sales opportunities (and how much of a music retailing force do you expect a "comic" store to be anyway?)

What did Alanis do to that was so offensive to record store owners? She signed a deal with Starbucks coffee house chain to allow them a six-week advanced window to sell the album in North America before record stores would be allowed to do so.

Mind you, this isn't the first time HMV Canada has had a hissy fit in recent years that has resulted in albums being pulled from their shelves. HMV Canada and a few other retailers have also gotten upset with the Rolling Stones over their "Forty Licks" DVD as well as Elton John for exclusive advance releases with Best Buy and Future Shop in U.S. and Canada. And the list goes on and on with similar incidents when specific chains such as Target and Wal-Mart or even when chains of stores specifically focused on music sales have been given exclusive bonus track editions to sell of albums as marketing gimmicks. It seems music retailers want to cry foul at every opportunity in the name of the practice being "unfair to consumers" when really they are crying foul because they aren't the ones getting the exclusive opportunities.

Alanis is certainly not the first artist to be boycotted by retailers and certainly won't be the last. How much of an impact the boycott will have is yet to be determined. Personally, I don't feel it will have much of an impact as a newly recorded acoustic interpretation of an album originally released ten years ago is more of a novelty release specifically designed to cash in on nostalgia while still offering a fresh take on the material. It's not like it's a brand new album with all new songs never heard before. I would imagine Alanis went into this project with no expectations that the new acoustic version of "Jagged Little Pill" would sell remotely as many copies as the estimated 30 million copies worldwide that the original "Jagged Little Pill" has sold in the last decade.

Boycotts have potential to be successful such as the case in 1994 when music retailers upset over CDs being sold at McDonalds restaurants retaliated against Roxette, who was the only group out of the four CDs being offered at McDonalds to offer new songs (The other artists, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Garth Brooks were offering 10 song "Greatest Hits" collections). Because the Roxette release featured 10 of the songs from the, then upcoming, "Crash! Boom! Bang!" album, retailers responded by not ordering sufficient copies of the new album to meet demand and causing the album to fail in the US market, which Roxette has never really been able to recapture since despite a few attempts. However, the record label, EMI, probably deserves the bulk of the blame for the album's failure considering it released the lead single five months before the album hit stores and failed to follow it up, despite the fact the rest of the world had the album even before the lead single hit the radio waves in the U.S. All of which could have been released long before the McDonalds promotion started.

In defense of Alanis' decision to give Starbucks coffee houses advance sales rights to her new album, Alanis has been a big supporter of emerging alternative ways to buy music, everything from being a major shareholder of MP3.com to offering exclusive content to online music sellers, such as iTunes. Alanis defended her decision to align with Starbucks by telling the Toronto Star "For me, it was just about coming up with a creative new way for people to share this music. If people don't choose to go into a Starbucks and take that few minutes between the time they order a coffee and receive their coffee to focus on music, then they're welcome to get that music where they typically get it. Or not get it at all. It's really their choice."

Another thing is that the publicity about the boycott is probably some of the best free advertising Starbucks is getting about their exclusive sales window. Now with media reports announcing that the album is exclusively available at Starbucks without Alanis, her label, or Starbucks having to spend a dime to share that news, the boycotters have effectively announced to the public where they can and cannot go to find the new album. And creating the impression that the album will not be widely available makes it seem all the more like a commodity which will increase the perceived value of finding the album. In the case of the Roxette album, not a lot of publicity was generated about the boycott and when it was raised, McDonalds had long since been sold out of their copies.

Starbucks is becoming an emerging force in music sales with having sold 700,000 of Ray Charles' posthumous release, "Genius Loves Company" and helping Tina Turner's latest hits collection reach the number two spot on the charts and other artists such as Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan are jumping on the bandwagon with exclusive collections and releases specifically for Starbucks. So whether other retailers like it or not, Starbucks is becoming another outlet where the public buys music. Granted Starbucks by its primary nature as a coffee house is not going to converting huge amounts of floor space into racks for CDs, it'll be a few releases here and there that can neatly sit on the counters and entertain guests while they wait for their coffee.

To the retailers who participate in boycotting Alanis and other artists for creatively trying to find ways to get their music heard, I have an important message for you. If people want to buy an album (or anything for that matter) badly enough, they'll go get it from who ever is willing to sell it to them and your boycotts are just sending your customers directly to your competitors that are willing to carry the albums.

In the case of Alanis' album, I have chosen to wait until retailers have gotten the album, because I don't personally like Starbucks. I'm not a coffee drinker, and I resent the idea that a company has the gall to charge near-mortgage rates for a cup of coffee. The only time I ever visit their stores is to buy gift cards for my favorite bartender's birthday because she happens to loves Starbucks. But if the stores I like to shop in won't carry Alanis' album, I will march right down to Starbucks and buy Alanis' album, just for the opportunity to virtually extend my middle finger to you boycotters for not allowing me the chance to buy her album from you. If Starbucks gets my money for Alanis' album, you idiotic boycotting stores retailers have only your self-righteous attitudes to blame. Maybe your customers should be boycotting you.