Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

My personal website has links to my LinkedIn and Google+ pages and you can send e-mail to david [at] thelayaways [dot] com.

If you enjoy this site, please consider downloading a Layaways track or album from iTunes, Amazon MP3, Bandcamp, or eMusic. CDs are available from CD Baby and Amazon.


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December 19, 2006

The Long Tail of Holiday Music
by David Harrell
The Long Tail of Holiday Music
As noted in an earlier post, holiday music is a big seller at year end, especially as digital downloads. Over at eMusic, of the 1,226 holiday albums in the catalog, 1,128 have been downloaded over the past month. Long tail fans take note -- that's a whopping 92% of the catalog!

On a related (and somewhat self-promotional) note: We're a bit late in the game this holiday season, but my band the Layaways took a break from work on our third album to record a Christmas mini-EP, which we just posted online as a free download:

O Christmas Tree - free mp3

Joy to the World - free mp3

Silent Night - free mp3

Special thanks to Dan Dietrich at Wall to Wall Recording for mixing "O Christmas Tree" and to Kyra Jacobs for the cover design!


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December 14, 2006

Album Downloads at Insound
by David Harrell
Album Downloads at Insound

Insound logo

I visited the Insound site yesterday (not to buy anything, you know, but to fill up on some of those free mp3 files...) and noticed that the online retailer is now selling mp3 album downloads, most of them priced at $8.99 or $9.99.

Details are here, but the most notable features are:

1. 192k mp3 files -- no DRM!
2. Full albums only -- you can't buy individual tracks.

As far as I can tell, it's mostly indie stuff, much which you could buy for less via an eMusic subscription, though Insound might make sense if you're only looking for single album, not an ongoing subscription. And Insound does have a few things that eMusic doesn't, like the Death Cab for Cutie releases on Barsuk. For those releases, the DRM-free Insound files seem a much better option than iTunes.

As for the album-only approach, I just found this article from October, where Insound's Matt Wishnow decries the single-song option:
"Digital distribution implicitly has the potential to devalue music as a product," Wishnow told today. "Most artists don't record individual tracks just to be released that way. Once you start pricing songs at 99 cents apiece, it's a slippery slope from there for music fans to start looking for places to get music for free."

Wishnow said he is fully aware of some fans' argument that the album has been devalued in recent years by the heavy emphasis on singles that ended up including "a bunch of filler" on full-length albums.

"But in the indie world, that hasn't been the case," Wishnow said. "Artists are still focusing on making quality albums. As long as artists record albums, that's what we want to sell."
As a tie-in to this approach, Insound is sponsoring a Save the Album ad campaign.

I love the album format -- as a teenager I'd feel slightly guilty for skipping a song when taping (or even when listening to) an album, that it was disrespectful of the original intent of the recording artist. And I agree with Wishnow somewhat in that the detachment of music from a physical delivery system (and the accompanying artwork, liner note, etc.) makes everything less tangible, at least to me. Maybe that leads to a devaluing of music by some consumers. But I'm not sure if I follow some of his logic here -- iTunes and the 99 cent per-song pricing model came fairly late in the game, well after the original Napster and the growth of the peer-to-peer "market."


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Thursday Odds and Ends
by David Harrell
Thursday Odds and Ends
More Zune vs. iPod analysis at the blog:
Much like a social network, the recently launched Microsoft Zune needs active users to reach its potential. Unfortunately for the Zune, these users have to be physically close in order to connect. As a result, Zune's biggest competitive advantage (wireless music sharing) relies on mainstream adoption in order to be an advantage at all.
And, via the Onion, new competition for the iPod.


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December 13, 2006

Zune vs. iPod
by David Harrell
Zune vs. iPod
Interesting ad placement at my train stop:

iPod and Zune posters

This story, from yesterday's WSJ, talks about "tough odds" for Microsoft but is (relatively) positive about the Zune, pointing out its wireless capability and quoting former iPod owners:
Some of Zune's features -- namely the ability to share files wirelessly -- have drawn converts from the iPod. Brian Timm, 17, a high-school student in Northville, Mich., sold his 30-gigabyte video iPod and preordered the Zune last month, so that he and his friends who also bought Zunes could more easily swap their favorite heavy-metal tunes. Sharing music was a hassle with an iPod, Mr. Timm says. "Other than give you one of my headphones, I can't do anything."

Zune has also attracted some disgruntled iPod users. Taylor Krebs, 17, a high-school student in Albuquerque, N.M., bought a Zune player last month after her iPod mini died in October. She says she had lost hundreds of songs that she had deleted from her iTunes library but had kept on her iPod. The Zune caught her eye because of its FM tuner, says Ms. Krebs.

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December 11, 2006

Nexhit Math
by David Harrell
Nexhit Math
Just saw that CD Baby's digital distribution service delivered the two Layaways albums to Nexhit. Hadn't seen anything about the service before -- it hasn't launched yet and it doesn't look like all of the details have been set.

Here's a description from the Nexhit website:
Nexhit Phase One: The first phase of Nexhit is a subscription-based digital music service that specializes in independent music. You won't find much (if any) major label stuff here . . . we're seeking to level the playing field in the music industry, if not tilt it in favor of the independent labels and musicians. We aim to accomplish this by offering the largest catalog of independent music on the internet and by eventually offering artists the highest payouts in the industry.

Phase one is a subscription-based model where users pay between $7-10 per month for full access to our music catalog. Once you become a member, you have unlimited access to the Nexhit system - this means you can download all of the music that you want, and you get to keep it . . . forever. No strings attached.

We are estimating an initial offering of somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 to 1 million songs when we launch later this year. That's a ton of music!
Should be interesting to watch, but I'm not sure I follow the math. Unlimited access (with the ability to download tracks) at $7-10 per month undercuts the price of eMusic, which would make it difficult to offer artists "the highest payouts in the industry." Maybe Nexhit is referring to the payout rates for the pure-subscription components of Rhapsody, Napster, and Yahoo's Music Unlimited services, which are generally one or two cents per stream.


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December 07, 2006

When Pigs Fly
by David Harrell
When Pigs Fly
I think the chances of Universal getting Apple to agree to any sort of iPod royalty or "tax" are zilch. While Universal had leverage with Microsoft, its only option with Apple would be to threaten to yank its catalog from iTunes. And Steve Jobs would no doubt call that bluff.

But nearly half the folks answering this week's poll think Universal will manage to extract something from Apple:

Billboard poll results - iPod royalty for Universal


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December 06, 2006

A Later Christmas Rush
by David Harrell
A Later Christmas Rush?
A reader's response to yesterday's post on holiday music sales:
I work in a big box CD store, and can tell you that the posted Billboard chart may be illusory. All the Black Friday hype notwithstanding, this year the sudden burst of buying is late. Our Christmas CD sales went from near zero to a significant chunk very abruptly on the evening of Friday, December 1st, and are accelerating. While in previous years the beginning of the Christmas madness got earlier and earlier, starting on about October 15 last year, it's still just coming into existence now. Assuming that everyone is procrastinating for whatever reason (perhaps because the winter weather hasn't yet hit at all where we are), these next three weeks are going to be retail hell.
Thanks J!


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Today's Wall Street Journal
by David Harrell
Today's Wall Street Journal
When iPods Die: complaints about the iPod's lack of durability:
"Some people swear there's a self-destruct mechanism in it after the warranty is up," says Matthew Bremner, a founder of, an iPod fix-it service with a store in Toronto and on the Internet. "For a small device that's that expensive it probably should last a little longer."
And EMI's Blue Note is experimenting with DRM-free mp3s for a new Norah Jones single:
Blue Note General Manager Zach Hochkeppel called the initiative "an experiment," adding that he doesn't believe it will cut into sales of Ms. Jones's forthcoming album, also called "Thinking About You," which is due out Jan. 30. That's because even if early copies of the song end up widely copied among friends or online, Ms. Jones's mostly adult fan base is thought to be less likely than teenage pop fans to be satisfied with just one song from the album and thus willing to buy the entire album even if they have gotten one song free.

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December 05, 2006

Tis the Season
by David Harrell
'Tis the Season
Christmas/holiday releases are big sellers in December -- especially as digital downloads. They make up 12 of today's top 25 album downloads in iTunes and 11 of the top 25 releases in eMusic.

But holiday albums only account for five of the top 25 CDs in's current chart and just two of the top 25 in the most recent Billboard 200 chart. Maybe the effects of any holiday-related impulse buying decisions are stronger with digital downloads than with physical CDs. Though it's possible you'd find a similar trend for CDs if you were able to see daily in-store sales. (Or with next week's Billboard chart.)


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Bye Bye Zappa
by David Harrell
Bye Bye Zappa
What happens when Warner Music Group buys Rykodisc? One consequence (several months later) is that the Ryko catalog is yanked from eMusic, disappointing some eMusic subscribers looking for Frank Zappa, Josh Rouse, portions of the Big Star catalog, etc.


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December 04, 2006

The Most Expensive iPod Ever
by David Harrell
The Most Expensive iPod Ever?

Barbri iPod rental prices

Not exactly, but that's what I thought when I first saw the fees for my wife's bar exam review course. Barbri, which pretty much has a monopoly on the bar preparation market, charges a hefty additional fee if you opt for the self study option.

To be fair, I suppose the $500 rental fee is paying for the content, not just the use of the device itself. But to add insult to injury, that price doesn't include headphones -- you have to pay an additional $5 for the iPod earbuds!


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    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs

    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at

    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at or Napster.

    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website