On Katy Perry’s ‘Prism’ Lackluster Sales And The Luxury Commodity That Is The Album

“The album is dying in front of our eyes,” says music analyst and critic Bob Lefsetz. He asks, “what kind of screwed up world do we live in where Katy Perry’s new album Prism sells only 287,000 copies in its debut?” and answers, “One in which everybody’s interested in the single, and no one’s got time to sit and hear your hour-plus statement.” 

The last album I purchased was Duke Ellington In Grand Company at a Starbucks checkout counter in early 2012. I love jazz and the track listing for this compilation was amazing. It includes Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgearld, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Rosemary Clooney, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Sathima Bea Benjamin, Ray Brown, Mahalia Jackson, Svend Asmussen and Stéphane Grappelli, and Billy Strayhorn. Absolutely amazing!

In today’s music landscape, albums work when an artist has die hard fans, but not when they have only periodic fans. That is, the fans who are super into an artist and virtually everything he/she does, not just occasional listeners. Unless, of course, if the album is truly amazing and the reviews are astounding. For example, before the Duke Ellington album, I purchased Adele’s 19 and 21.

READ: Dear Indie Band, Your Friends Are Not Your Fans

The music industry has seen a dramatic decline in album sales and I think its partially due to the access to songs via free streaming services. Spotify, for example, allows users to stream an entire album on-demand. Why buy an album when you can pick and choose the best songs from an album to buy? In a sense, singles are much more useful to a music listener. You can buy the best songs from an album and not worry about the “filler” songs.

Critics point to pre-release hype as a false indicator of potential album sales. And I agree. Hype is exactly what’s contributing to the lackluster sales. Hype doesn’t sell records. Hype draws attention. Good music and a solid loyal uber fan base will sell records.

In Katy’s case, I’m not too familiar with her fan base and how she connects with them. But apparently her team didn’t do a good enough job of motivating her fans to buy the album in “super star” numbers. Or maybe reviews weren’t too compelling.

I think the album product is a luxury commodity. With access via free streaming platforms and the ability to pick-and-choose your tracks on iTunes in the case of a purchase, buying a complete album–especially in CD format–is more of a luxury than a normality.

This piece is in response to the article, “Katy Perry’s ‘Prism’ a Good Example Of How Albums Don’t Work Anymore” by Bob Lefsetz on Variety.com.

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About Dae Bogan

Dae Bogan is a music rights executive, serial entrepreneur, and educator with over fifteen years of experience in the music industry. Currently, he is the Head of Third-Party Partnerships at the Mechanical Licensing Collective and Lecturer at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

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