- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

Is Norah Jones the budding savior of the struggling pop music industry? You might not think so, given how most commercial radio stations have ignored this 22-year-old singer-songwriter and her whisper-soft blend of jazzy torch songs, high-lonesome country ballads and svelte pop songs.
But Miss Jones' enchanting debut album, "Come Away With Me," rose to No. 19 on the national Billboard charts and is fast approaching the million mark for sales.
That makes the album, which was released by Blue Note Records in January, one of the surprise success stories of 2002, a year that has seen total first-quarter sales of recorded music drop by 8.3 percent from the same period last year.
So how has this Texas-born, New York-based chanteuse managed to click in a depressed market, with scant radio airplay?
The answer is simple economics.
Miss Jones' album has been marketed nationally at a special "developing artists" price that ranges from $6.99 to $9.99 per copy, depending on the outlet.
The same discounting has also helped singer-songwriter John Mayer, whose major-label debut album, "Room for Squares," climbed to No. 21 on the Billboard charts, as well as such rising young artists as Ashanti, N.E.R.D. and Andrew W.K. Moreover, at least one established artist, P. Diddy, slashed the price of his new album, "We Invented the Remix," which late last month entered the Billboard charts at No. 1, and has dropped just three notches since.
"Both Norah's and John Mayer's albums have been very consistent sellers, primarily because of the price," says Tony Vick, the manager of Lou's Records in Encinitas, Calif.
"The discounts can be a nice enticement to get people to experiment with the music they buy," agrees Phil Galloway, co-owner of Off the Record in San Diego, Calif. "This is a good solution, especially with so many albums being released with $18.98 list prices. Record companies have to give the customer something, or they'll lose more people to downloads off the Internet and CD burning."
The discount on Miss Jones' album led many customers to buy multiple copies as gifts for friends, says Sol Shapiro, the vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Note Records in New York.
"Norah is not the first," Mr. Shapiro says. "We discounted albums four or five years ago by [saxophonist] Javon Jackson and some other straight-ahead jazz artists, and it worked. But it's absolutely a new phenomenon with pop music acts.
"A lot of labels are coming to terms with the fact album prices have gotten too high and that we're competing with video games, CD burning and the Internet now," Mr. Shapiro continues. "So pricing is a big factor."
But if you haven't snapped up Miss Jones' album at a discount, you may have missed your chance, Mr. Shapiro notes.
"There comes a time," he said, "although every label is different, where you say: 'OK, we did this introductory price and now it's time to raise the wholesale price.' So now Norah's album is priced as a regular CD."
Miss Jones' star should continue to rise regardless.
But if the record industry is serious about trying to recover from its dizzying slump, it would do well to consider slashing the price of all CDs, pronto and permanently. To do otherwise will merely hasten what many already consider to be the demise of a business that need look no further than its own greed to diagnose why it's ailing.

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