Not many LABO readers are probably aware of this, but Mariah Carey's new album, "E=MC2", has sold 463,000 copies, making it the highest sales week for any album this year. That's a bit lower than the 500,000+ that had been expected, but 15 percent higher than the debut of her last album. Should we care? Well, yes, if you’re interested in the travails of the music business. Our friend Peter Kafka over at Silicon Alley Insider notes that when the industry was at its peak a top act could easily move more than a million albums in the first week of sales. Yet, Carey and a few others continue to have a following. Kafka got the lowdown from Jay Frank, a former Yahoo Music executive now running music for Viacom's Country Music Television.
Jay's argument, which has the ring of truth to us: People are still willing to buy music -- from a handful of artists they like and care about. This is a nice counterpoint to the arguments we often hear on the Web: People won't buy music because the marginal cost of reproducing tunes is approaching zero. Or people won't buy music because they're sick of being ripped off by the evil record labels. What is true, Jay acknowledges, is that the casual music fan -- the one who didn't particularly care about music, but casually threw a CD in the shopping cart while picking up something at Wal-Mart, has gone away. Which is why Mariah Carey will be happy to sell 3 million copies of the new album, instead of the 9 or 10 million that a big album would have sold in 1999.