Ben Sisario at the Times just wrote a piece about the extra burden being placed on bands now that all the biggest music retailers will essentially only give premium placement and pricing to records that contain exclusive bonus material. The problem, of course, is that between Best Buy, Walmart, Target, iTunes, and a handful of others, it's just not possible for artists to oblige everyone. Sisario cites Dave Matthews, Green Day and the Beastie Boys as examples of bands that have been forced into releasing multiple versions of their new albums (from basic, to deluxe, to super extra double deluxe, or something), and he's not wrong to: It's awful that any artists are being told that the albums they've slaved over for god knows how many hours aren't enough to stand on their own. But at the same time, it's at least worth pointing out that those bands are unfathomably rich, have access to limitless studio time, and are signed to record labels with absurdly deep pockets. In that respect it's sorta difficult to feel too terribly for them.
More interesting for me is what this means for the smaller artists out there—the indie bands on the verge of breaking through. And what it means is, I guess, not very complicated: they just can't do it. The record labels don't have the money to front for fancy packaging with 50-page hard-cover booklets, and the bands don't have the money to stay in the studio to record six extra songs.
They're being faced with similarly heightened expectations, though, for slightly different reasons. They're now expected to include bonus material just so that people will buy the record at all, instead of just grabbing an illegal download.
So the artists are under attack from every direction, basically: the huge corporations are causing at least a slight inconvenience for the more established artists, and they're pretty much cutting off the smaller ones completely; the regular, every-day music fan, on the other hand, is making it so that even the indie bands are being forced to function beyond their means in a lot of ways, by insisting on stealing music. It's not good for anyone, really, but it's even worse for the very idea of the album. Which sucks, you know, 'cause I kinda like albums.