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Why does iTunes get all the Treats?

On Tuesday, two of the most anticipated indie albums saw their official releases. The National dropped High Violet, an album that put Twitter users into a cumulative tizzy when The New York Times streamed the album in full a few weeks ago.

The other album is Treats, the debut by Brooklyn “it” band Sleigh Bells.

Sleigh Bells burst onto the scene during last year’s CMJ. Their demos made the duo one of the most blogged about items in music after Michael Jackson’s death. And they got M.I.A.’s pre-violent-video-hysteria seal of approval. You can’t buy that kind of approval.

Sleigh Bells

And you can’t buy Sleigh Bells’ Treats. That is, not unless you have an iTunes account. Because the only place you can purchase it now is with iTunes. The physical version of Treats won’t be released until June: Presumably, that’s when other digital music stores will begin selling the album.

So, what gives? Why is an album that’s available in digital format only available in one digital music store?

Well, it’s probably a solid marketing move for the band. Just this week, the duo’s seen an immense amount of coverage for the record, despite it only being for sale in one location. NPR is streaming the album in full on its site. You can go to practically any site with a music section and find coverage of Treats. Just today, Pitchfork knighted the album with a Best New Music.

The results?

Treats hit No. 4 on iTunes. That’s big. That’s the kind of visibility that no ordinary indie band with their fare share of cred can just get. What iTunes offers that places like Amazon and eMusic don’t is mass visibility. Apple’s music webstore is the place to go for purchasing music online. It’s eclipsed all other music-purchasing sites and has been leading the digital charge for years. And digital music sales are close to eclipsing physical sales in the U.S. that record execs everywhere are losing pounds in sweat.

So, it’s slightly understandable why Sleigh Bells would want to release their album only on iTunes. But it certainly isn’t good for the rest of us. For those of us who enjoy using other services, events like this give iTunes an edge in the industry. Which can give iTunes more muscle when it comes to getting music to distribute and the means of distribution. Which means some more control over pricing, and even control over exclusivity. If the onset of digital technology has increased the culture of “firsts,” iTunes certainly has the power there. And if you can get Treats for less than $8 right now instead of waiting a month to fork over more than $14 at Insound, what option would you go for?

I would like to think that by releasing Treats through every digital music store, it would give the band even more visibility and increase sales. But, I’m not entirely sure about that. With the way Treats has been performing, the duo and Mom And Pop Records have every reason to believe that this is the way to go.

Here’s hoping that releasing exclusively through iTunes doesn’t become the industry standard. As much as I love Apple, I’m not entirely taken by the idea of distribution exclusivity. So as I wait for Treats to hit eMusic, I hope there are some equally idealistic individuals out there doing just the same.

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