We readers have been blaming high ebook prices at Amazon and elsewhere on Agency pricing, and rightly so. But there is an analogous paradox in mp3 pricing that is less often talked about (here’s one of the few stories on it I could find). For many albums, especially backlist music, Amazon charges more for the mp3 than it does for the CD.
Since a lot of the albums I impulse-buy are from Amazon’s $5 category or new releases, I hadn’t noticed this until I wanted to pick up the complete Brahms symphonies by Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. I’d listened to all four on rdio and thought they were wonderful. This is how the system is supposed to work, right? You hear for free, you’re hooked, you buy the recording.
But when I went over the Amazon, here’s what I saw:
A $10 difference? Really, Amazon? And then I went to buy a Murray Perahia recording as per The Awl’s recommendation and found a less significant but still distinct difference:
Let’s compare. CD audio quality is better and I can resell it if I want to. But the mp3 download is far more convenient and I can download from the Cloud Player to my various devices (most of which don’t have a CD slot anyway). The CD is a pain to put on all of them.
In addition to the price and convenience difference, there’s the environmental factor. Since I’m a Prime member, Amazon will ship me each of these purchases using 2-day service for free. That racks up fuel costs and adds packaging detritus to my recycling bin and garbage pickup.
It is absurd that I should be forced to make this choice. I know Amazon makes no claims to care about the environment, and Prime is horrible for our carbon footprint. But creating financial incentives to pollute? Maybe it makes business sense. I just don’t see how it makes any other kind of sense.
Wait, scratch that. At the moment it’s not even making business sense for Amazon. Because I’m so annoyed, I’m not choosing either option.