[T]he popularity of such songs raises a troubling issue for the music business, which relies in part on the huge profits generated by greatest-hits collections, perennially selling classic albums and the continual repackaging of old material. The question: What if fans who might have paid for a full album of “the very best” of an established act instead choose to pay substantially less and simply buy the very, very best song?
As recording formats have evolved over the decades, the industry has profited from the marketing of previously released music — as fans replaced their vinyl LP collections with compact discs of the same albums, for example. Since the older classics are comparatively inexpensive to reproduce and market, they typically carry higher profit margins than music from new acts. But the migration of music from shiny plastic discs to online services has disrupted the industry’s cycle of replacement, and record labels are only beginning to see the effects.