UPDATED: WTF of the Week: Sufjan Stevens' Label vs. Amazon

UPDATED: Information about the founders and operators of Asthmatic Kitty Records.

This has to be a first. A  company openly begging its customers not to buy a product from a competitor  for cheaper. Yesterday, Pitchfork reported that eccentric folk artist Sufjan Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty sent out an e-mail to customers notifying them that his forthcoming album The Age of Adz would likely be available through Amazon for a very low price. The message suggested that music fans should think twice before clicking send on their credit card digits and patronizing the online giant. 

Who? Sufjan Stevens is an eclectic indie artist with a soft sweet voice and some heavy artistic ambitions. Two of hils albums: 2003's Michigan and 2005's Illinois were inspired by each state respectively. Stevens had said many times he intended to record a concept album inspired by each of the 50 states. In a later interview, he referred to this as delusional, as the album format was an outmoded medium.


So what gives? The message sent out by the label referenced the fact that while Asthmatic Kitty likes the idea of getting music into the hands of good people for cheap, they also want to make sure the hard work of their artists is worth more than “the price of a latte.” 
Asthmatic Kitty went on to list what it saw as a fair price for EPs and full-length albums. In the case of Adz, Kitty suggests people pay between $10 and $12. The message also writes “You might wonder why we'd 'allow' Amazon to sell it for lower than that. There are several reasons why, but mostly? It's because we believe in you. We trust you and in your ability to make your own choice.” 
Hmmmmm. Something is odd here. It seems unlikely that the record label is making this request at the behest of Stevens, It seems that Stevens was at the very least a co-founder of the label which is run by his stepfather Lowell Brams. The label's Web site lists Stevens as the Minister of Aesthetics. In any event, artists typically get a small portion of the revenue brought in from record sales. The larger portion of course goes to the label for promotion and distribution (which Kitty references in the e-mail). 
At this point I can only wonder how the label ended up in this position. Did they sign some sort of deal with Amazon only to regret it later? Is this some sort of weird social experiment? In either case,  I'd suggest that if it's OK for companies to give consumers a reason a product has to be a little more expensive (manufacturing costs, global economics, employee wages) then it's only fair consumers give their own reasons for buying low (i.e.  recession, inflation, and wage disparity.) 
Something tells me even if the label were to tank following this event, Stevens would manage to keep playing music. And if Asthmatic Kitty has made an error in judgement either in their dealing with Amazon or their estimation of humanity, isn't it fair for  music fans to defend their own savvy spending  by saying “it's only business.”
When it all goes down: A digital release of Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz can be pre ordered through Asthmatic Kitty for a Sept. 28 release. It will be available through Amazon  Oct. 10.  The choice is yours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *