An article in the Wall Street Journal today drives home why record labels need to hop on the DRM-free digital music train to get their wares out there. Wal-Mart, Best Buy and their ilk are now responsible for at least 65 percent of all music salesâ€”including online storesâ€”and they're reducing the amount of music they carry as CD sales drop. Do we really want Wal-Mart dictating what music people listen to?
On top of granting more and better shelf space to big-name releases like Justin Timberlake over say, Mike Patton's latest work, and skewing sales that way, Sam Walton's legacy flat-out refuses to sell certain titles. And matching the 20 percent plunge in CD sales this year, it's planning to shrink store real estate dedicated to music by an equal amount. Best Buy's also cutting down on the amount of space it gives CDs, so expect the number of titles they carryâ€”8,000 to 20,000, versus defunct Tower Records' up to 100,000â€”to be cut as well.
Result? Big name, mainstream sludge will be pushed even harder by default. As space shrinks, so does choice.
Online stores have unlimited shelf space. They carry an unlimited quantity of millions of titles. While they're no substitute for dropping by your local record store, increasingly they're looking like the most viable way to keep choice alive in the music industry. Even just the iTunes home page has way more variety than the weekly promo displays at Target.
All of this adds up to yet another reason why the Big Four and other labels need to drop DRM to spur music sales onlineâ€”it's for their own good, really. If they're still interested in keeping the industry alive, at any rate.