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Beggars Group on AmieStreet

February 29, 2008 |  3:32 pm

Amie_street_logo_3 I've long been intrigued by's approach to music retailing. It's the Skybus of online music: the first buyers get the lowest price (which, in AmieStreet's case, is free). The more people who buy a track, the higher the price goes until it reaches the maximum of 98 cents. This flips traditional retailing, which tries to collect a premium from the most eager buyers, on its head. But it makes sense in music; for every buyer who wants to be ahead of the crowd, there are probably 20 or 30 who want reassurance from their peers or other consumers before parting with their money.

The site's biggest shortcoming to date has been the absence of content from recognizable artists, aside from the occasional post-major-label one (e.g., Dolly Parton). It goes without saying that the major labels don't sell music there -- they typically offer music to retailers at a single wholesale price, and AmieStreet doesn't work that way. Earlier this week, though, the site landed its biggest fish yet: Beggars Group (home of 4AD, Matador and XL, among other labels) and Polyvinyl Recording Co. The deal brings such indie faves as Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Belle and Sebastian and Of Montreal to AmieStreet. Prices for some of the hotter new releases have already hit the maximum, but there are plenty of bargains to be found. As I flipped through the selection, I was struck by how close the prices were for most tracks on the albums I saw. That suggests the site's customers like to buy whole albums, not just one or two tracks. Who says the album is dead, or that most tracks on a record are filler?

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