Game Changers

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Recently an unexpected artist moved to the top of the sales charts: Ludwig Van Beethoven, two centuries past his prime. Beethoven is finally getting the sales push he richly deserves from The album, titled The 99 Most Essential Beethoven Masterpieces, is selling like hotcakes from the online retailer, alongside pop regulars like Taylor Swift, and Li'l Wayne. The renewed interest in the classical composer is fueled by the price point -- $7.99 for 99 of Beethoven's most important works on MP3. Selling in bulk, and experimenting with the price is a very smart idea for the record industry, and other retailers would do well to pay attention.

Beethoven is not the only artist to break new ground at Amazon. Nine Inch Nails have done it as well. What makes the Nine Inch Nails' story so interesting is that the band was giving away their music early last year. In March 2008, Trent Reznor and his band gave away free downloads of the first of their four-album instrumental set, titled Ghost I - IV, on the Nine Inch Nails website.

They offered deluxe and BluRay editions as well, which sold out immediately earning the band $1.6 million in the first week. But the most interesting part was the money he made, selling the entire album set, 36 instrumentals in all, on Amazon's MP3 store for $5.00. The sales were so strong, Ghost I – IV earned the Bestselling Album of 2008 at Amazon, beating out bands like Coldplay and Death Cab for Cutie. On top of that, the group opted to distribute all the albums under a Creative Commons license, protecting them from commercial distribution, while allowing remixing and sharing. Fans appreciated the gesture. In fact, the Nine Inch Nails fan base is so dedicated, they are creating their own collaborative documentary project, with the blessing of the band. Using the band's last 2008 show, Nine Inch Nails fans are sharing video to edit and create a live DVD, free to other Nine Inch Nails fans. Once again, Nine Inch Nails is showing their creative flexibility in adjusting to the digital marketplace.

And it looks like iTunes will also change their game. While details are not yet specific, beginning in April, music on iTunes will be variably priced and all sold without Digital Rights Management code. Tracks will cost either 69¢, 99¢ or $1.29, as dictated by record labels.

All of this is really driven by the challenge iTunes is facing with Amazon's MP3 store sales.

And speaking of stores, the jewel in the Virgin Megastore crown, its Times Square location, will be closing its doors. While the traffic in that store was always strong, the massive three floor record store makes prime real estate for many suitors, situated perfectly in the center of Times Square New York.

This is Celia Hirschman for On the Beat on KCRW.