In advance of the release of Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz, Asthmatic Kitty kvetched about how Amazon was sort of undercutting the label by selling the album for $3.99. Now that the album is out, Village Voice talked to A&R man Michael Kaufmann about the release, and to talk about being an indie label.
OK, then Amazon comes along, and more or less tells you they're going to be selling the record at a steep discount during its first week of release--undercutting you guys, among other people. On the one hand, you've been just offered the Arcade Fire-patented recipe for outsized indie success--Sufjan is probably now going to sell a bunch more records. On the other, they're playing with your money, and the fundamental value of your product. How do you guys balance those two conflicting incentives?
Unfortunately we poorly communicated this point. As Sufjan sings, "words are futile devices." When we first heard about the potential Amazon deal we were very excited to participate. For a small label like our own this was a great opportunity for essentially free marketing. It is a great program, Amazon is doing this as a loss leader, and therefore we still make the same amount of money we would have made at the regular sale price.
So I am sure many folks are thinking, "What in the world is our problem?" What gave us pause was that we were also offering the album at a higher price and we wanted to make sure our customers knew that it would be available for half that price on street date through Amazon. We wanted to be honest and transparent about the coming deal so that folks who preordered at a higher price didn't feel like they have been misinformed, or had a lack of information to make an informed choice.
We never wanted to impose any sort of guilt on our consumers. To me this is in large part of what the record industry has been doing wrong: criminalizing music lovers. However, the message when taken away from the intended audience and often taken out of context read as if we were guilting people into buying direct from us. This was certainly not our intention, and if we had known this was how it was going to be perceived, we certainly would not have sent the email.
What we wanted to do was provide choices. And in the process we thought it would be an interesting opportunity to give food for thought on the perceived worth (or value) of an album. But that discussion should have taken place in a different context. The intent was certainly not to criticize of Amazon's approach. Rather, we hoped to spark conversation and examination of our methods of doing business real time with our customers. We didn't realize this spark was going to blow something up in our faces. Again, what we intended as a cursory thought of the email became the main focus of its criticism
Kaufmann's main point with the September message about Amazon was about how albums should be worth more than the $3. Which makes sense, I guess. The best part about the interview is how Kaufmann reveals there are essentially five people running the label, and how the leaking of the album was okay with them. Read the whole thing at the Village Voice.