The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 June 2006

The 99-cent solution

"Weird Al" Yankovic has an Ask Al page, and this question came up:

Al, which of these purchasing methods should I use in order to make sure the most profit gets to you: Buying one of your albums on CD, or buying one of your albums on iTunes?

Says Al:

I am extremely grateful for your support, no matter which format you choose to legally obtain my music in, so you should do whatever makes the most sense for you personally. But since you ASKED I actually do get significantly more money from CD sales, as opposed to downloads. This is the one thing about my renegotiated record contract that never made much sense to me. It costs the label NOTHING for somebody to download an album (no manufacturing costs, shipping, or really any overhead of any kind) and yet the artist (me) winds up making less from it. Go figure.

Grant Robinson of the Digital Music Weblog decided to go figure:

According to DownhillBattle, Apple pays the labels $0.65 (some say it's as high as $0.80) of the $0.99 paid for your song.

So, for an album with the average 12 songs, like your current release "Poodle Hat" which has exactly 12, Apple takes in $11.88. Apple sends the label $7.80. That's $4.08 cents for the boys in Cupertino. And, it might be a pretty reasonable split if you then received the whole $7.80.

Not even close:

According to widely circulated data from the coverage of the Allman Brothers' suit against Sony BMG, you could expect something like $45 of each thousand songs sold to be paid to you in royalties. That's around 4% of the amount paid to Apple for your work, and around 5.7% of what was paid to the label. For the Allmans, that works out to $24,000 when taking Nielsen SoundScan data of 538,000 Allmans songs sold as downloads since mid-2002.

A couple of points here:

  • Obviously the record company is entitled to something; after all, they've done a fair amount of heavy lifting.

  • Poodle Hat and other Yankovic albums, and a lot of everybody else's albums, are, in fact, $9.99 each. (Of course, if you buy them one track at a time ....)

That said, I think it's time for Al and other aggrieved artists to re-renegotiate.

(And I buy more stuff from CDBaby than from iTunes and amazon.com combined. As the man said, go figure.)

Posted at 6:27 PM to Fileophile , Tongue and Groove


Well, I've bought a bangellation more music on CD (dozens) than in the form of downloads (<1, if I'm not forgetting something), so I guess I'm being kinder to the artists than my wife, who has taken to downloading music for her Palm (and she's been stocking up on SanDisk chips to host all this megabytage).

Posted by: McGehee at 8:54 PM on 19 June 2006