iTunes Store called ‘Music’s New Gatekeeper’

The Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article looking at how Apple picks the artists it highlights on the front page of the iTunes Store, and what those spots mean to record labels and sales. “Apple has jettisoned some of the conventions of traditional music retailing—notably, the practice of selling prime promotional spots to recording companies willing to pay for better visibility for their acts,” the Journal reports.

“But behind the scenes there’s plenty of horse-trading going on that influences which songs are seen and purchased by iTunes customers. Apple—now one of the largest sellers of music in the U.S.—offers home-page placement in exchange for things such as exclusive access to new songs, special discount pricing or additional material such as interviews with stars.”

According to music industry executives, an album can sell about five times more copies during a week when it is featured on the iTunes home page than an average week.

“The decisions by the small group of Silicon Valley and music-industry veterans running iTunes can help put an unknown band on the map, adding millions of dollars in sales, while relegating others to the obscurity of the site’s virtual back bins,” reports the Journal. “iTunes is housed at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters in a cluster of nondescript cubicles that could easily be confused with a software-development group but for a smattering of music posters on the walls, according to people who have visited or worked there.”