Earlier this week, rock legends AC/DC announced that their entire back catalogue was going to be made available on iTunes. Today, Billboard is reporting that the move has seen a spike in sales for the band. Since their music became available through the online retailer on Monday November 19th, the band has sold 48,000 albums and 696,000 individual tracks in the U.S alone. But the news is significant for far more than just sales statistics.
Five years ago, the factor that was keeping iTunes from dominating the music retail market was the handful of big selling artists refusing to sign up to the service. The back catalogues of The Beatles, Metallica, Oasis, Pink Floyd, and the aforementioned Aussie mega-band are some of the most profitable collections of music in the global marketplace, and iTunes wasn't seeing a penny from any of them. But times have quickly changed. Long time iTunes hold-out Kid Rock's caving to the service a couple of weeks ago was an indicator of that, and AC/DC's recent conversion feels like one of the final pieces in the puzzle.
But should they have done it? AC/DC, along with many of their rock alumni, had long maintained that a major reason for steering away from iTunes was the service's tendency to break up artists' albums into disparate tracks, altering the way that these records are listened to. Artists were anxious about the end of the album, the form that, since the 1960s, has often been considered the home of rock music's artistic merit. Looking at AC/DC's first week sales statistics, their worst fears appear to have been realized. Compare, for example, the 84,000 units that their biggest selling single track, "Thunderstruck" sold with the mere 15,000 for the "Back In Black" album.
Perhaps breaking up albums isn't such a problem for a song orientated band like AC/DC. For concept orientated acts like Pink Floyd though, it's clearly more of an issue. That was fully realized back in 2010, when the Floyd pulled their music from online retailers after EMI violated an agreement that records such as "Dark Side Of The Moon" would only be sold in full album bundles. Flash forward to 2012, however, and the music of messrs. Waters and Gilmour is back on iTunes and still available in single track form. The breaking up of albums is probably the reason that prog-metallers Tool are one of the final holdouts from digital music distribution.
Their signing up to iTunes means that future generations might never listen to an AC/DC album again. Does it matter though? Have AC/DC sold-out to the inevitable digital music machine, or does the breaking up of their album catalogue into disparate tracks put consumers firmly in control of how they engage with the band's music? Do albums like "Dark Side Of The Moon" have to be listened in full? Or should listeners be able to pick and choose from conceptual pieces as they see fit? Let us know in the comments.