After EMI Contract Expires, Key Pink Floyd Albums Disappear From Digital Retailers

ED CHRISTMAN/ Billboard  8/21/10

If you’re looking to buy the classic Pink Floyd albums “The Wall” or “Animals” as digital downloads, you’re out of luck.

Those albums as well as other post-“Dark Side of the Moon” titles like “Wish You Were Here” and “The Final Cut”—all originally released on Columbia Records but distributed by EMI since 2000—have been pulled from digital retailers like iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store, because EMI’s contract covering those albums expired June 30.

The albums are still available on CD because EMI has stock that it can sell off. But industry sources say that it likely won’t be able to manufacture more physical copies of those albums until a new contract is signed. Pink Floyd’s earlier albums—from “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” through “Dark Side of the Moon”—are still available on CD and as digital downloads on EMI.

Label sources say that Pink Floyd’s management was shopping the band’s entire catalog for a licensing deal about 18 months ago, asking each major to explain how it would market the band’s catalog and to make a bid. While sources at the majors say elaborate presentations were unveiled for the band’s management, the bidding levels got too rich for some of the majors.

An EMI spokeswoman declined to comment, while managers for various members of the band couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

EMI has suffered big-name defections like Radiohead and Paul McCartney since U.K. private equity firm Terra Firma purchased the major in 2007, saddling it with onerous debt service terms that it has struggled to meet.

EMI’s talks with Pink Floyd could prove to be a key test of whether superstar artists still have faith in the label’s ability to market their music. But label sources say they doubt that Pink Floyd’s asking price will fly, even though the band remains of the best selling of the Nielsen SoundScan era.

Since 1991, Pink Floyd albums have sold 36.2 million copies in the United States, including 654,000 last year and almost 311,000 this year. Pink Floyd track sales total 6.5 million, while so far this year song downloads stand at 587,000 units.

It’s unclear what, if any, effect a London High Court ruling on unbundling Pink Floyd albums will have on the contract negotiations. In March, the court ruled that EMI doesn’t have the ability to sell individual Pink Floyd tracks. At the time of the ruling, EMI issued a statement saying, “Today’s judgment does not require EMI to cease making Pink Floyd’s catalog available as single-track downloads, and EMI continues to sell Pink Floyd’s music digitally and in other formats.”

“The Wall” remains one of Pink Floyd’s best-selling albums. Since EMI took over distribution of the album in 2000, it has sold nearly 1.5 million units in the United States, of which 107,000 have been digital downloads, according to SoundScan. During the two months prior to the end of EMI’s distribution deal on the later Floyd titles, sales of “The Wall” totaled 14,000 units, with weekly album sales ranging between 1,000 and 2000 units, according to SoundScan. Digital albums, which accounted for 41% of sales during those two months, averaged nearly 1,000 units per week.

But in the weeks following the June 30 contract expiration, U.S. digital album sales of “The Wall” sank to virtually zero.

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