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Beyonce Game Changer: Get Ready to Pay for Music Videos

Beyonce's new "game-changing" album is less about art and more about making more money off fans by charging for something that was once free.

Beyonce’s new “game-changing” album is less about art and more about making more money off fans by charging for something that is now free. (Photo: Getty)

Beyonce is being hailed as a “game changer” with the surprise release of her new album, but the change has less to do with art and more to do with crass commercialism. Get ready to start paying for music videos.

Her album is selling on iTunes for the premium price of $16 because the download includes not only 14 new tracks, but also 17 music videos as well.

So far, you can’t buy the music without the visuals.

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If the package proves successful–commercially, that is–expect to see more music packaged as Beyonce’s game changing “visual album.”

Most of reporting so far has been taken in by the hype about they way she released the album and videos; all at once with very little publicity. That kills two birds with one stone, lower promotion costs and a new profit center–videos.

Music videos have always been a conundrum for record labels. Since the advent of MTV in 1981, music videos have become an industry staple. Early on, they were pretty simple, usually lifted from filmed concert footage or a taped television show.

But as MTV took off, music videos became more and more elaborate. One of Michael Jackson’s lasting contributions to music was to elevate the music video to an art form.

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His videos for songs like “Thriller” and “Billy Jean” were ground-breaking for their artistry, choreography and high production value.

After that, music videos became an art in themselves, but they produced no revenue outside of their promotional value. At the same time, production costs soared. Spending $1 million to produce a music video became more the norm than the exception for major artists.

Record label executives groused that they were spending a fortune to supply MTV and other music networks with free content, which, in turn, they monetized through the sale of commercials.

The situation was tolerable as long as the record companies could recoup the cost from the record sales. The promotional value of a music video was proven to help move product. But the rise of digital downloads, not to mention illegal downloading, destroyed the business model.

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The cost of music plummeted, thanks in large part to the rise of iTunes. Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs insisted on selling songs for 99 cents and albums mostly for $9.99.

Yet the demand for music videos only increased, especially with the advent of YouTube, and still present one of the best ways to promote music and new artists.

But Beyonce’s bold “game changer” could change that. Instead of releasing free music videos featuring an entire song, get ready for music video “teasers,” typically 30-second snippets as Beyonce just released.

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The few full videos from her album that did make it online were quickly hit with take-down notices from her label.

If Beyonce’s experiment is successful, full videos for each song will only be available as part of a package with the album at a premium price.

So far, the album is heading for the top of the charts. So, much for art. Let’s hear it for money.

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