sony

Sony hikes Whitney Houston album prices online

Feb. 13, 2012 at 11:27 AM ET

Sony Music / msnbc
Marty (Fran Kranz, left), Curt (Chris Hemsworth, center) and Jules (Anna Hutchison) in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

UPDATE: Comments added from Tom Dolan, CEO of CDQuest.com.

It's easy to get so emotional about a singer after they've passed prematurely, as Whitney Houston did Saturday at the age of 48. But fans seeking to buy her digital albums in remembrance weren't too happy at sudden price hikes so soon after her death.

The Brits picked up on it quickly, with London-based Next Web writer Matt Brian and The Guardian's Josh Halliday both finding the price increases, which raised Houston's "The Ultimate Collection" 2007 album from £5 (about $7.89) to £8 (about $12.63). In the United States, the cost is even steeper: $15 for the "Greatest Hits" collection at both Amazon (mp3 store) and iTunes.  

Halliday found out that Sony Music increased the price of "The Ultimate Collection" at about 4 a.m. Sunday, not even 12 hours after news broke of Houston's death. Fans were quick to point fingers at Apple for the anti-sale, but it turned out that when Sony bumped up the wholesale price of "The Ultimate Collection," iTunes and other retailers automatically upped their pricing.

We've reached out to Sony for comment and will update if/when we hear from them.

Digital Spy found consumers who said the price change happened even more quickly: 30 minutes for it to jump from $4.74 to $12.62, which prompted one buyer to fume, "The album itself is great so please don't be put off purchasing it, just [realize] that you will merely be lining some fatcat's pocket before Whitney's lifeless body is cold." 

But Tom Dolan, CEO of CDQuest.com, wrote to tell us this goes against his experience with Sony. 

"The costs to the retailer on each of the titles that you mention in your article have not changed at all. So if the cost of the product hasn't changed, then the actual culprit for the price increases would be the retailer and not Sony," Dolan wrote.

Houston's "iTunes Essentials" album is even more expensive at $18.45 for 15 songs (vs. 36 songs for $14.99 on the "Greatest Hits" album, which was originally released in 2000).

Over at Google Music, you can't find those albums, but there are a smattering of free singles, including "Greatest Love of All" and "So Emotional."

Meanwhile, at Walmart, things are just plain fishy. Though the retail giant has exited the music download business, it is still a massive CD retailer. While the pricing of Whitney's CDs hasn't changed, every single one is listed as 'out of stock online.' Could that really be because of a surge in buying? Or is there a price change afoot?

Dolan told us his thoughts on this:

Hardly any websites maintain very much stock and this all points back to distributors warehouses.  So as popular as Whitney may seem, just days after her death, most distributors were only carrying <30 copies on almost all of her CDs, because she just wasn't selling.  All of her rabid fans owned everything and there were no converts to her in recent years.  Even at the distributor level, I can see the stock level histories and it looks like they were selling maybe 1 or 2 copies a day and that is at the distributor level.  People have this misconception that labels sit on hundreds of thousands of copies of albums like this, but the reality is that this was pretty deep, slow moving catalog until she died. Then when somebody dies, every Joe Blow comes out of the woodwork saying how important an artist was and people suddenly buy up all the stock and in the internet age, that can sell out in an hour.  It is as simple as that...

When somebody dies unexpectedly, especially an artist that was huge about twenty years ago but barely trickled in sales in recent years, nobody has stock on hand to meet the demand, not even the label, not the distributors and not the retailers, from small independents all the way up to Walmart.  Up until the moment of her death, it would have been completely irresponsible for any music buyer to have been sitting on a lot of WH CD stock.

As of this morning, three of Houston's singles were in the top 10 singles chart at iTunes, including the No. 1 "I Will Always Love You," which was also sung in tribute by Jennifer Hudson at last night's Grammy awards. Houston's "Greatest Hits" album was No. 2 on the iTunes albums chart, runner-up to only Adele, who swept the Grammy awards with hits from her "21" album. 

By the end of the week, Houston's sales could even surpass her.

Take our poll and let us know if you bought Houston's music, despite the price hikes.

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On Twitter, follow Athima Chansanchai, who is also trying to keep her head above water in the Google+ stream.

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