Have you ever wondered why it costs roughly the same for you to purchase a CD of, say, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde — an universally acknolwedged classic of 75 minutes of sublime music, and Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove — a universally acknowedged piece of crap that barely breaks a half-hour? As a music fan, of course, you’ve probably come to expect that all albums, then CDs, then downloads all cost pretty much the same. It’s just that some enrich your life forever and others get you maybe a buck and for sure a snide look from the guy at the used CD counter.
In a lot of ways, this pricing is kind of like paying the same amount of money for a McDonald’s hamburger and a Prime porterhouse at Morton’s. Only in entertainment do we risk essentially the same money for such wildly varying degrees of pleasure. Part of that is wrapped up in our understanding of art: not even the greatest are great every time out — and of course, to be fair, even Down in the Groove no doubt has its defenders — but part of that is wrapped up in the methods of those who control the distribution.
In this case, that would be the major labels — these days they are configured as such: SonyBMG, Universal, EMI, and Warner — in the past, configured differently, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is, no matter how they are configured, from the consumer standpoint they’ve artificially set the prices to be the same, regardless of quality, regardless of manufacture cost, regardless of length (except that a 80-minute double-CD could be sold for twice as much as a 78-minute single CD), regardless of just about anything. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end amen.