You have to give Garth Brooks credit for boldness. He has now signed on with Wal-Mart as an exclusive artist. As the owner of all his own masters, he will soon be available only at Wal-Mart stores and their online shop. They expect to start with some kind of box set in time for Christmas. Capitol can sell the stock they had made before Brooks signed his deal in June, and that’ll be it.
This is a pretty big deal. Artists occassionally have a temporary exclusive for a big retailer, or maybe a side project, an exclusive video maybe. But a major recording artist signing up to have all their music available only through one retailer is unprecedented. What kind of ramifications will this have for the music industry?
For one thing, Billboard notes that under their standards, releases not available to all retailers are not even eligible for the main Billboard 200 album chart. But how credible will that chart be if it doesn’t reflect the sales of perhaps tens of millions of Garth albums? What if other artists follow suit with similar exclusive deals through K-Mart or Best Buy?
Not many rock singers would be likely to consider such a deal just on general grounds of fearing a label such as “corporate whore” or “tool.” Of course, Garth Brooks starts out so far into that territory that it makes no difference. The red state dominated audiences of a lot of country acts likely wouldn’t attach any such stigma. That represents a pretty big chunk of business right there that could be spinning out in a new direction.
This sure doesn’t seem like a good time to start a record store. This exclusive deal idea could easily be really tough for any kind of record store competitors. Wal-Mart cuts out all the record companies and rack jobbers and everything. Plus, they might well find it strategically useful to treat Garth as something of a loss leader, a lure to get customers into their stores even if they don’t necessarily make much on his albums per se. But then those margins won’t matter to independent retailers, since they won’t be able to get the album at all. Maybe the local mom and pop record shop can send someone over to buy some Garth albums from Sam’s Club for resale.
On one hand, not even being available in most retail outlets might encourage more people to just download his stuff peer-to-peer. On the other hand, Wal-Mart might well sell his stuff so cheap as to cause most people to just go ahead and buy the retail album rather than fooling around with the computer stuff for the difference. Think of all the DVDs in the $5.50 bins now. They very well could make good money selling exclusively licensed CDs even considerably cheaper.
This isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, Wal-Mart is know for being nothing if not ruthlessly cost efficient. There’ll be no ridiculous profligate record company nonsense driving up their prices, the kind of stuff parodied in the dope and sex orgies of BFD records in the infamous Sgt Pepper movie, available on DVD at your local Wal-Mart.
Plus, I bet they don’t spend several million dollars at a crack on short form music videos, or other such profligate nonsense in order to scratch for exposure. Nor will they need to bribe radio stations to play their stuff; they can just play their new Garth albums in store x ten million or so Wal-Mart stores.
One odd thing about all this, Garth Brooks signed up for this big exclusive all encompassing history making deal- yet he seems to have made no commitment to actually record new music for Wal-Mart. He has nominally vowed not to make another album or do a concert tour until his young daughter graduates high school in 2015. They’re scraping around for some unreleased recordings, but he seems ambivalent about making any new music.
He’s got a lot of material to re-package and re-release. But can the world wait that long for a new Garth Brooks album?Powered by Sidelines