Island Def Jam's surprise exclusive release of Frank Ocean's Channel Orange album for one week on iTunes is still angering other retailers. A week after Target refused to carry the album as a result of the digital exclusive, Amazon on July 16 started selling an MP3 version of the album for $2.99 -- a move reminding music buyers that if they see an iTunes exclusive, they should check Amazon's price before downloading from Apple.
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Amazon's lowballing is the latest twist in the ongoing tug of war between labels and retailers to drive volume sales at the expense of pricing. But after all is said and done, the price wars could create more confusion among consumers. Christian Clancy, Ocean's manager and co-founder of 4 Strikes Management, says, "Frank gives us the opportunity to see some of the business practices that need to evolve."
One major-label sales executive put it more bluntly: "[Amazon is] punishing the artist and the label in a pretty sneaky and clever way. They are also definitely sending a message to other labels that giving iTunes an exclusive will have consequences."
The blowback for iTunes' preferential treatment is felt deeply on the Billboard charts. Billboard's revised policy, instituted after Lady Gaga's Born This Way was priced for 99 cents on Amazon to boost first-week sales, excludes sales of titles scanned for less than $3.49 within the first four weeks of release.
Sources say that the Amazon sale will generate about 15,000 album downloads at the Seattle-based merchant this week -- but those Amazon numbers will not count toward the album's position on this week's chart, released tomorrow (July 25).