Sony raised price of Whitney Houston albums after death

At The Guardian, Josh Halliday writes about Sony's rush to profit from Whitney Houston's death.

Sony Music has come under fire after it increased the price of a Whitney Houston album on Apple's iTunes Store hours after the singer was found dead.

The music giant is understood to have lifted the wholesale price of Houston's greatest hits album, The Ultimate Collection, at about 4am California time on Sunday. This meant that the iTunes retail price of the album automatically increased from £4.99 to £7.99.

The clockwork regularity of Sony PR disasters is really something. It's as if a Division of Unbridled Cynicism lurks deep in the bowels of its vast workforce, issuing Spite Directives to ensure an ingeniously varied drumbeat of fail.



  1. When asked for comment, Sony BMG’s don of North American operations described the move as “nothing personal” and “strictly business”….

  2. Hey, at least they increased the price after she died.

    You’ll know the system’s really rotten the day that a scheduling error results in a record company intern accidentally raising prices on a formerly-popular singer’s catalogue shortly before the singer’s ‘mysterious’ death …

  3. The question is, did they even get it right? How many potential buyers would have gone for it at £5 that won’t bother at £8? Probably a lot. Probably more than half.

    1. It’s minutes according to TNW, but theirs turned out to be an otherwise unsourced rewrite of a Guardian item, which says hours. I’ll stick with the Guardian item…

    1. Is anyone really surprised that Sony posted massive losses in the last year?

      A couple of years ago I gave up on Sony entirely, will not buy any more of their equipment with proprietary, non-universal connectors that even they have a hard time keeping track of, and discontinue for very recent products.

      Then the way they spearheaded the corporate shenanigans to displace open-source HDTV from the market, to impose their patented Blu-Ray, and STILL they manage to kcuf that advantage up, posting over a billion in losses for 2011.

      Sony today seems to be the unethical gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
      It’s impressive to see a company with an excellent reputation back in the eighties and nineties, rot into a state of greedy, seedy decadence.

      1. It’s probably worth mentioning that Sony Music is an entirely different entity to the Sony that make consumer electronics.

  4. Has to be said:

    “It’s as if a Division of Unbridled Cynicism lurks deep in the bowels of its vast workforce, issuing Spite Directives to ensure a ingeniously varied drumbeat of fail. ”

    Greatest sentance I’ve read on the tubes in ages.

  5. Being charitable they might just  have an algorithm setting the price. Could easily be that the volume spiked pretty rapidly after the news broke and their system reacted.

    That stuff is pretty normal across lots of the web, remember the amazon text book sellers who’s bots inflated the price of one book to millions of dollars by responding to each other…

    1. I suppose we may test the hypothesis by having other Sony artists eliminated.
      [Coming from the UK I am now obliged to point out that this is a joke]

    2. This was the iTunes Store, which surely does not use that Amazon algorithm.

      Just last week I saw something on Amazon that seemed to fall prey to that algorithm, which does not seem to follow spikes and dips in supply and demand, but some other weird factor, a dynamic between retailers and NOT manufacturers (which Sony is, in this case).

      Does iTunes use an algorithm to fluctuate prices?  This Whitney Houston thing looks like the behavior of stocks being traded on Wall Street, yet I’ve never heard of iTunes changing prices by the hour like this.

      1. It’s not iTunes that set the price; Sony changed their wholesale price (from the original article) and that’s what changed it on iTunes. The question is whether that wholesale price used an amazonesque algorithm.

  6. Who had this bright idea?? Imagine some idiot from Sony sitting at his computer in his home office (it was Saturday night, after all) reading the news and calling some other idiot at Sony…

    “Hey, man, did you hear the news? Whitney Houston just died!” — “Really, wow, isn’t she still one of our top-selling artists? Do you remember how after Michael Jackson’s death people suddenly started to buy his stuff again? Let’s raise the price!”

    Gee whiz.

          1. Your answer is proof of everything that’s wrong with our society in general and capitalism in particular. I pity you.

    1. “Imagine some idiot from Sony…” You mean “some human garbage?” Idiot is too good a word.  And that is why I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I bought anything from these bastards.
      The creeps know we see through them and that is why all the SOPA/ACTA crap. They know that if media market got fair and the artists got their fair share, piracy would decrease dramatically. And that’s why they’re so desperate with the shtick. I see an upcoming global boycott of “former” mass media coming up if they manage to get their laws through . These bloated vampires should be starved of their “bottom line.” Never buy another Sony product and the monster will die.

  7. It’s called supply and demand. If I were a Sony shareholder I’d be upset if they didn’t raise the price. Sony’s legal responsibility is to put their shareholders first.

    It would be nice if they wrote a condolence letter, or donated money to her favorite cause, but determining the price of her albums is a business decision.

    1. It would be supply and demand if we were talking about physical goods with limited availability. We’re not. So it’s just plain greed.

      1. Because there is no real “supply” yes the demand for the product is the only determining factor for it’s cost.  Sony increased the price to what they felt people were now willing to pay, predicting an increased demand for the product.

        1. Economics fail. Price increases with demand in the case of finite supply of product. No finite supply? No excuse to raise the price especially when we are talking about a digital product. Supply chain delay issues could be a valid excuse for retail goods, but 1s and 0s? That’s just Sony being a bunch of fucking jerks.

          1. Reality fail.  As we are talking about an event that has taken place.  The price did go up for this infinite resource.  The driver was the expectation of increased demand.

            Perhaps if there was competition for the infinitely supplied resource, price would decrease.  As there is one source, however, supply size doesn’t matter.  They will charge what they think people are willing to pay.

    2. I have always loved the “shareholder” first arguments… This is a pure excuse to do what ever a company wants to do regardless of the impact to other people or the actual human element.  To use that argument it to say that polluting the Hudson river with PCBs is in fact OK because it maximized shareholder wealth.  Unfortunately this is actually corporate socialism in that the taxpayer has picked up the rest of the tab.

      But, what you fail to realize is that the IP laws make Sony a monopoly on Whitney’s music AND 1) I bet that whitney’s family will not see any of the extra money 2) the SONY CEO will take a bigger piece this year based on NADA 3) the bad publicity is not in the interest of shareholder value and finally 4) It’s like dancing on someone’s grave before the autopsy is done… So since humans have some control of the temptations of the market.. I say Sony pooched it.

      1. Basically, corporations are like imaginary friends from your childhood. When your mom walks into the room to find the vase is broken, you tell her that Billy did it or you say, “the devil made me do it.” When unethical business people are complete, soulless bastards and sociopathically make decisions for profit that harm the interests of the rest of society, they can say: “it’s not me, it was the corporation!” or “the shareholders made me do it!”

      2. Those kind of bad decisions are prevented either by government or by the customers. A company won’t pollute because the government makes laws that protect society. The people set the bounds of what is right and wrong, that is the role of government.

        For the decisions that government can’t or won’t regulate it is up to the people. If everyone thought it was in such bad taste to raise the price of an album after an artist dies then the resulting ill will and boycott of Sony will teach them that moves like that won’t raise profits, and they won’t do it in the future.

        So yes, I agree, this decision was in poor taste, the question then becomes was it bad enough to actually hurt their profits from the backlash against them. Maybe. I hope so!

        1. If everyone thought it was in such bad taste to raise the price of an album after an artist dies..

          Unless the average consumer doesn’t know that the price was jacked up, which is likely to be the case of 95% of people buying it. If the consumer did know they were being taken for a ride then my guess is that less of them would buy it. This dishonesty to paying customers is the reason many people (myself included) have no morality when it comes to illegally downloading content from the corporate giants.

          Also: you might want to rethink your trust in the government to regulate industry. History has shown they cannot be trusted unless watched carefully. SOPA? That farce was an example of the government supposedly protecting society, and we all know how much that would have protected society’s interests. In an ideal world your understanding of how things work might be accurate but we do not live in an ideal world.

    3. Donating to her favorite cause may be somewhat nonsensical as as far as I know coke isn’t very effective post-mortem.

  8. I feel like the potential for this is the true flaw of the “MP3 Marketplace.”  Sony is not only trying to fake a speculator’s market — but they’re trying to do it with an infinite product.  

    1. The thing is although the product is infinate, intrest in it won’t be. The next week or 2 will be all about poor whitney and sony should take advantage of that blip. 3 weeks from now sales will drop back off & well life goes on. (but not for whitney, cause she’s dead)

  9. I think this sort of thing just falls out of Rob’s writing orifice with very little effort.  Not just anybody can pull that sort of thing off, but he does it without the extra layer of pompousness that would trip most of us up.

    EDIT: Oops, this was supposed to be in response to garg2 above’s comment about “It’s as if a Division of Unbridled Cynicism lurks deep in the bowels of its vast workforce, issuing Spite Directives to ensure a ingeniously varied drumbeat of fail. “

  10. “Meh. That’s so cynical. Sony has a bad enough reputation as it is. Boycott ALL of their music and other media and they’ll be in mourning for real.”
    Unfortunately that would hit the livelihood of many other artists on Sony and other subsidiary labels.
    And there are many of those. Not buying Sony hardware, though, would hit them where it hurts.

    1. Actually…  this might of been true in the 90’s or indeed early 00’s but I would strongly argue it’s not true now.  Yes, if you boycott ALL of Sony’s offerings it will adversely affect the people working for Sony. 

      However,  iTunes and all the others will be more than happy to have those artists in the stores after Sony is but a bitter memory and their contracts voided.  I’m pretty sure Google (YouTube), Vimo, etc would love a few brand new movies as well. 

      Added bonus you know the majority of money you pay would go to the people involved and not the middle men. 

  11. The John Lennon/ Yoko album “Double Fantasy” was on the low end of the chart the week he was shot. It went “number one with a bullet” (Zappa’s comment) after the harsh fact and there was a temporary shortage of that album for about a month. Sealed copies were being offered $100+ for the duration. That was then…
    I’m not fucking surprised by Sony’s move. Graverobbing, it is.
    Supply and demand, they’d call it. If someone needed to hear/ reminisce today, I’d recommend hitting up the cassette bins @ the local thrift shop.

    1. The difference is that there were a finite number of albums produced. You can speculate vinyl. You can’t speculate an infinite product. 

  12. Lisa: Two-hundred and fifty dollars? But I need that record to honor the memory of Bleeding Gums Murphy!
    Comic Book Guy: He’s dead? Well, why didn’t you say so?
    [Comic Book Guy marks out the $250 price tag and writes $500 in its place.]

      1. Really, bro? And Kodak invented the camera. So what? Hardly worth using a trademarked catchphrase from a has-been TV celebrity chef.

  13. Why should this be considered a PR disaster? The value of her work went up on the news of her death. Raising the price of her music in response to the market value of that music going up is definitely the correct move. Sony may not have the consumer in mind when it makes it’s decisions, but from a business perspective (including the interests Whitney Houston’s heirs) this can only be seen as the correct move.

    1. Even if you look at this from a pure business point of view (as opposed to a moral one) it’s still bad PR. If you piss off too many customers then that’s bad business.

      1. Right on both counts. It’s well within their aim to make more money off an artist that still falls within their catalog.  The only real difference is that this move was so quickly and clumsily executed.

        Just look at all the crap that got churned out when MJ died. Did we really need a concert film, a Kinnect dance game, or a re-imagined anniversary edition of Thriller ( w new awful guest spots)? No, no, and no. 

        The day before he died, he was a drug-addled, insanely eccentric loony with no new work and questionable behavior around multiple adolescents. The day after he died, he was right back to being the KING OF POP™ – as completely cooked-up and phony as that title is. 

      1.  Right!  And the truly abhorrent thing is that they don’t care! 

        Regrettably, every artist’s work rises in price upon their demise.  It’s the axiom of art as commerce.

      2. Of course. I agree. Just wanted to get down to the same level as the “good business” commentators around here, since the business argument seems to be the only one they (sort of) understand.

      1. unethical – this is Sony , everything about them is unethical just like every other corporate greed machine ( step on everything and everybody to turn a buck, or yen or euro….. its just the fundamentals of business*. Supply and Demand ——(*sarcasm) 

    2. Short term they make some quick buck on the Whitney Houston albums. In the long term, they loose much more through bad PR. This is NOT a good move, even from business perspective and I believe that some heads are rolling in Sony. You know, a company’s reputation does have a $ value.

  14. Good on them! They obviously think people are willing to pay more and it’s pretty inconsequential for the people who buy it, so yeah, why not. More money for whoever inherits the Houston estate, more money for Sony, more money being spent all-around (if Sony is right). So what’s the drawback here?

  15. Everything you need to know about Sony can be had simply by assuming it was transported straight from “Neuromancer.” They make beautiful, elegant, powerful things and then proceed to program and sell them in the most reliably cynical manner imaginable. 

  16. In a related example, the minute I saw pictures of the Athens’ riots, I knew the US market would open higher. It’s a tough world.

  17. I don’t understand why people are more drawn to purchase works by newly-deceased singers than when they were still alive. It’s not like the works suddenly got any better. There’s nothing inherently personal in a mass-produced CD, and in the case of downloads you’re not even getting something tangible.

  18. “It’s as if a Division of Unbridled Cynicism lurks deep in the bowels of its vast workforce, issuing Spite Directives to ensure a ingeniously varied drumbeat of fail.”

    Rob, that was simply fucking glorious.

    I’m going to endeavor to issue at least one Spite Directive a day from now on.

  19. I do wonder if it’s an automated system that either reacts to sudden sales spikes, or reacts to the number of mentions of an artist in online news sources, or twitter mentions.

    If it were possible to check the history of a price on iTunes one might be able to see if there were any comparable price rises for an artist who suddenly had a big spike of news coverage, but for some other reason.

  20. i really don’t know why this is a big deal. yes, it’s ghoulish profiting, but this is standard practice when an artist dies. welcome to capitalism. it’s like when the price of umbrellas goes up when it’s raining. just buy her music either before, or wait until well after to show your appreciation.

    1. That’s what amuses me the most about the manufactured outrage.  I mean, seriously.  If you were a fan you already had the album.  If you weren’t?  Well, the music will be back to its normal prices in a relatively short period of time.

      It’s ghoulish, but honestly it’s not like it’s hurting the artist at all.

  21.  I miss the days when, if someone popular died, their corpse would be taken on a whistle stop tour around the country, their fingers bought by robber barons, and their remains ultimately sold to Ripley’s or P.T. Barnum.  When you could could have your picture taken with a dead Indian for four bits. 

  22. And you respond with your wallet. 

    I rooted my Shuffle and all my music is now  being transferred from iTunes to  Google Music Manager. Once that’s done, I’m deleting iTunes. 

    It’s that easy. 

    1. Wow, man, you must have really loved Whitney Houston if that’s your response to her death. I tip my hat to your extreme over-reaction!

  23. good thing the RIAA is fighting for the name of copyright with SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, TPP ect…  to get that money to the artist which is their main concern apparently but how does that make any sense when the artist dies and they jack up the price. Is all that extra money of jacked up prices really going to the grave with the artist with after death sales?

  24. The word you’re looking for here is capitalism. They adjusted a product price based on a change in demand. It’s not like they were a construction contractor charging people triple for roof repairs after a hurricane. This is sad, manufactured outrage, and undeserving of a BB post.

  25. I wonder what the general reaction would be if Sony had lowered the price, instead.
    Would they he lauded for bringing the works of Whitney Houston to the masses at the time they’re most wanted?
    Such an act would surely give the company a nice image for a little while.
    Or would that very change in image actually be used as proof that it was a cynical business decision all along?

    If there’s anything ghoulish about this whole situation (and every other one like it – Michael Jackson, anyone?) it’s exactly what EricT was referring to – this horrible stand-in for the viewing of a corpse.
    Her music will be played on the radio, and in shops, and in restaurants over and over until we’re all sick of it.
    You won’t find any more dedicated fans to W.H, just a bandwagon bursting at the seams.

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