I always read with great interest the statistics posted by Billboard which reflect sales of albums (both physical and digital) week-to-week and year-over-year. It’s common knowledge that for the past 2-3 years everything’s down, save vinyl. So-called experts in the field keep citing various factors for the decline in sales, I.e. Streaming cannibalizing download sales, economy, higher negotiated publisher rates, etc.
What no one has mentioned is that iTunes/Apple Music has pulled approximately 40% of all re-recordings and live performances by heritage artists, under the guise of “artist cleanup” and “editorial discretion.” For example, San Juan Music owns the last live recorded performance by Percy Sledge, a live performance in Prestonburg, Kentucky in 2006. This title is not currently available on iTunes or Apple Music, having been deleted for reasons unknown to anyone except iTunes. On the day it was deleted, one of our licensees’ Percy Sledge releases was the #2 selling Percy album on iTunes. Did it disappear because of “artist cleanup?” If so, why was the #2 selling album deleted while the major label releases stayed online and available?
In addition to Percy Sledge, many of our clients have had a slew of products removed from iTunes (and now Spotify) including but not limited to the Lee Perry-produced Bob Marley masters, the pre-CBS Santana masters, Ben E King re-recordings of his hits, The Miracles re-recordings of hits, etc. iTunes has created a blacklist of products they will not accept anymore and has undertaken to delete these titles from their store. They do, however, continue to keep major label releases by these artists available.
I suppose my point is that sales are mainly down because the amount of available product has been reduced. I note again that no major label releases by Percy Sledge have been deleted by iTunes/Apple Music, no matter where they fell on the sales meter. Between the general deletion of re-recordings and live products released by independent labels and the refusal to accept certain kinds of products, the people most responsible for the sales of products via digital distribution have created a situation where fewer and fewer products are available (this, by the way, despite the fact that they make as much money on a download of a San Juan master as they would on a download of a major label release). Since iTunes/Apple Music is the dominant seller of music in this country, unless and until they adopt an alternative stance with respect to the products they accept and sell, sales numbers will continue to fall and independent labels will be grossly underrepresented in the iTunes store.