Where Did the $5 Albums Go?

For a few years, record companies and digital music retailers routinely ran promotions in which hundreds of albums would be offered at a low price, often $5, for a limited time. That angle seems to have lost its pull. The big $5 album offers quietly disappeared.

If you look, there are still dozens of albums available under $5 in any given week. This helps to explain what happened — $5, $4, and even $3 albums became common enough that the novelty factor wore off. If you can buy all the $5 albums you could ever listen to any day you want, why would you jump at the chance to do so on a specific weekend, when you probably have other things to do?

The novelty factor wore off, and I also think listeners may have bought so many albums that they developed a backlog. When I look through my digital collection, there are eight interesting albums I have listened to only once or twice. Logically, I might want to listen to those albums a few more times before I spend money on a few new albums.

I don’t think the widespread availability of music at low prices means that prices for all albums will start to fall. However, it makes it more difficult for prices to go up, and that may be reason enough to keep album prices about where they are. In real terms, prices for music have fallen by two thirds since 1970, and as nominal prices hold steady for now, real prices continue to decline.

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