Wal-Mart Wants $10 CDs [pdf]
Wal-mart wants every CD you buy to cost less than ten bucks. And the nation’s largest retailer — which moved a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of goods last year — usually gets its way. Suppliers who don’t accede to Wal-Mart’s “everyday low price” mantra often find their products bounced from the chain’s stores, excluded from being sold to the 138 million people who shop at a Wal-Mart store every week.
[...] “This wasn’t framed as a gentle negotiation,” says one label rep. “It’s a line in the sand — you don’t do this, then the threat is this.” (Wal-Mart denies these claims.) As a result, all of the major labels agreed to supply some popular albums to Wal-Mart’s $9.72 program. “We’re in such a competitive world, and you can’t reach consumers if you’re not in Wal-Mart,” admits another label executive.
Tensions are not as high now as they were last winter, but making sure Wal-Mart is happy remains one of the music industry’s major priorities. That’s because if Wal-Mart cut back on music, industry sales would suffer severely — though Wal-Mart’s shareholders would barely bat an eye. While Wal-Mart represents nearly twenty percent of major-label music sales, music represents only about two percent of Wal-Mart’s total sales. “If they got out of selling music, it would mean nothing to them,” says another label executive. “This keeps me awake at night.”
[...] Major labels insist that the low prices mass retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy demand are impossible for them to achieve. But Best Buy senior vice president Gary Arnold counters, “The record industry needs to refine their business models, because the consumer is the ultimate arbitrator. And the consumer feels music isn’t properly priced.” Labels point to roster cuts and layoffs as evidence that they can’t sell CDs cheaper.
This breakdown of the cost of a typical major-label release by the independent market-research firm Almighty Institute of Music Retail shows where the money goes for a new album with a list price of $15.99.
$0.17 Musicians’ unions
$0.82 Publishing royalties
$0.80 Retail profit
$1.60 Artists’ royalties
$1.70 Label profit
$2.91 Label overhead
$3.89 Retail overhead
As commenters on the Pho list have noted, there’s nothing here about volume sensitivity, as we talked about in class last week in the UK.