Warner Music Group and the Long Tail

Posted on June 15, 2006

The New York Times reports Warner Music's Rhino Records has decided to publish an album that is only sold at online music stores. They know there is audience for the group Luna but they don't feel it is worth the expense to sell the album in all retail stores.
The decision to also put out an online-only album, "Lunafied," which includes Luna's versions of songs by the Velvet Underground, the Talking Heads and others that were originally recorded for soundtracks or as bonus songs, illustrates the way that Web outlets can generate sales for interesting albums considered too obscure to win shelf space at regular retail outlets. Without the costs associated with printing and shipping CD's, such online-only releases need not sell many copies to make a profit.

"This is the first time we've done this, but it won't be the last," said David Dorn, Rhino's senior vice president of new media strategy.

Luna, a moody band influenced by the Velvet Underground, is beloved by indie-rock aficionados, but its most popular album, "Bewitched," sold just 86,000 copies in the United States, according to SoundScan. The band was dropped from Elektra, a division of Warner.

The band initially suggested putting out a two-disc set, with one disc devoted to hits and the other devoted to covers, according to frontman Dean Wareham, who now performs with his wife in the duo Dean & Britta. "But they sent it upstairs to the people who analyze how they're going to make money," he said. And because online consumers tend to buy music by the song, collectors buy only the tracks they do not already own.
This is the kind of trend you like to see and there will probably be more limited releases in the music world. A limited release is much better for bands and music lovers than no release at all.