iTunes cuts/raises prices: Teens poised to shrug

With little (or no) fanfare, Apple’s iTunes opened its doors to a new pricing scheme, and song-based packages that the recording industry hopes will jazz up music sales.  Good luck.

Apple unveiled a three-tier price scheme – 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29. Since opening in 2003 all songs in the iTunes store have been priced at 99 cents.

So what sells at what price? A little scouring this morning yielded this comparison:

Current hit “Heartless” by Kanye West: now $1.29.
Classic hit “Magic Man” by Heart:        now $0.69.
Marginal hit “Don’t Phunk with my Heart” by Black Eyed Peas
                                                        still $0.99.

Hate the 30 percent pop in chart-topping prices? Perhaps you’ll find comfort in the fact that for every one song raised to $1.29, iTunes will be reducing 10 songs to 69 cents according to a label source. (But finding the bargains ain’t easy: every version of a sure you’d think MUST be ripe for a discount, lets say, ”Macarthur’s Park” — even versions by Della Reese and Andy Williams — are still $0.99. Go figure.)  

EMI Publishing has a dream: diversified revenues with MLK

EMI Publishing, the song publishing arm of EMI Music, has struck an interesting deal with the estate of Dr Martin Luther King Jr to manage the licensing of his words and speeches in recordings and music.

It’s an unusual deal for EMI Publishing, which is best known for managing iconic songs like ‘New York New York’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ or the songwriting talents of the Arctic Monkeys and Beyonce. This is the first time the company has ever handled speeches and sermons, or in fact any non-song-based intellectual property, according to a spokesman.

Another interesting feature of the deal is that the unit will also handle the online image rights of Dr King. So if, for example, you’re building a website about the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement and you need to use King’s likeness, you might not have to call Getty Images but EMI Publishing.

You guessed it: Viacom and Time Warner settle

Who was the big winner in the Time Warner Cable-Viacom dispute? A few newspapers, it seems, since they got a little extra holiday cash when Viacom decided to take out some advertisements and take their fight with the cable operator public.

Otherwise, the outcome is what many expected: the two sides reached a deal and nobody missed a single episode of “The Hills” or “Dora the Explorer.”

Indeed, here’s what Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson predicted on New Year’s Eve, just when the fight between Viacom and Time Warner over fees was really heating up:  “As has been the norm, we would expect a settlement — terms undisclosed — in a relatively quick manner, as both sides may not want to see if this battle results in mutually assured destruction, as Viacom loses ad dollars and Time Warner loses subscribers.”

Universal Music: We’re doing great thanks v.much.

The big dog in the music pound, Universal Music Group, says rather than feeling sorry for itself as the music industry’s woes spiral out of control, it has managed to have a good 2008 so far.

Universal’s parent, Vivendi, the French telecoms and media conglomerate, said on Thursday that the world’s largest music company had actually grown revenue by 3.5 percent in the first nine months of 2008 on a constant currency basis to 3.14 billion euros. Though this is a 3.8 percent decline in actual currency.

The company was boosted by growth in music publishing and merchandising following the acquisitions of BMG Music Publishing and Sanctuary in 2007. The company also highlighted a 33 percent increase at constant currency in digital sales and higher license income.  These all helped offset tumbling CD sales, says Universal.