Prince and Target: Match Made in Discount Heaven?

Prince and Target: Match Made in Discount Heaven?

When you think of Prince, do you expect to get more and pay less? Probably not, but that hasn’t prevented Target, the 1,677 store discount chain, from striking a deal with his royal funkiness to be the exclusive retail outlet for Prince’s new three-disc set. The Prince collection features two predictably tough to spell-check original studio albums, LOtUSFLOW3R and MPLSoUND, and a third record, Elixer, which will introduce the world to Bria Valente, the next in the long line of purple protégés.

Target will bundle all three albums together for $11.98, available starting March 29.

Other than the fact that both hail from Minneapolis, what brings this odd couple together is one thing: money. Linking up with an exclusive retailer is not a new idea, but of late it’s proven to be quite a profitable one, at least for well-established musicians. The Eagles and AC/DC released their most recent original albums exclusively through Wal-Mart — in January, Bruce Springsteen gave the chain an exclusive greatest hits set — and each benefited from massive in-store promotion and stop-the-cart placement; AC/DC’s Black Ice sold 1.92 million copies to rank as the fifth best-selling album of 2008. Paul McCartney also saw some of the best sales of his solo career when he struck a less exclusive deal with Starbucks and its record arm Hear Music.

While no one on the music or retailing sides is desperate to reveal the price tag of an exclusive rights deal, several sources indicate that bands have received in the mid-six figures to fork over their music and participate in promotion.

As interesting as Prince’s new music is likely to be — and through all of his experiments and career meandering, he’s never made a dull album — the marriage of musician and retailer is just as intriguing. The upside for Prince is obvious: in an era when record sales continue to slide, there’s nothing quite as sweet as cash up-front, even if it does mean your face on a big cardboard display right next to the Swiffer. For Target, there’s a small element of brand burnishing — Prince likes us! — but the music is primarily just one more product to seduce shoppers into stores.

Whether Target sees an uptick in sales of purple linens remains to be seen, but each of these rock and retail experiments brings the future of the record industry into slightly sharper relief. And for mature acts who can bring an upscale fan base into stores, that future appears to be brightening.

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Read a TIME story about Prince giving away his music.