iTunes buyers who want to purchase Jay-Z’s newest album, the soundtrack to the American Gangster movie, are out of luck. That’s because the rapper insists that fans buy the entire album, not individual tracks, and Apple’s (AAPL) online store won’t allow that.
Jay-Z’s not the first artist to stay off of iTunes because of an album vs. tracks dispute (other notable holdouts include Radiohead). But is the first time he’s had a problem with it: You can buy much of his earlier music, track by track, on iTunes today. What gives?
Jay-Z is also the titular head of Universal Music Group’s Def-Jam label, and his boss Doug Morris has become one of Apple’s (AAPL) loudest critics, so it’s easy to imagine that Jay-Z’s move had something to do with that — note that album will be sold via Amazon (AMZN), which is trying to create an iTunes competitor with UMG’s help.
Maybe the rapper is sincere when he says he wants fans to experience the entire album as a whole, just like they’d watch a film all the way through instead of scenes. Or it may just be Jay-Z wishing he could dial the clock back to the late 90s, when people who wanted to buy an individual song had no choice but to buy the album it was on — a lousy deal for consumers but fantastic for the music business.
Whatever the motivations are, the result will be the same: Fans who want to acquire Jay-Z’s music legally have lost their easiest and most widely used option, which means they’ll be that much less likely to pay for it at all.