Whitney Houston died on Saturday.
We got the news while finishing off some homemade apple pie with our dinner guests. We all looked at each other, kind of in shock, and then continued our dessert.
Now I don't say this to be crass. Certainly anytime someone loses a loved one, it's not something to be trivialized. I feel for her family, her friends and colleagues. She was an amazingly talented singer and she will be missed by many.
Now interestingly, around the time we were scraping the caramel off the sides of our plates, the folks at Sony (NYSE:SNE) were busy as beavers, quickly raising the price of Houston's downloadable albums by 60 percent. And people were pissed. So many folks were posting on message boards about how Sony was being unethical and how they were “disgusting the way they were capitalizing on Houston's death.”
But here's the thing. When a famous visual artist dies, the price for that artist's work typically skyrockets. Hell, we often joke about it. I have an artist friend who always jokes about how rich and famous he'll be after he dies.
So why then, is it any different when a musician dies?
I'm not saying it's right or wrong or ethical or unethical. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'd have the stones to do something like that. But I'm simply recognizing the basic fundamentals of supply and demand in action.
Of course there was a run on Houston's music after she died. From folks who remember her when she was still a young fresh face singing about how she wanted to dance with somebody to younger generations who just want to see what all the fuss is about.
The fact is, Sony simply responded to demand in the way any capitalist would. And let's not forget, you can be sure that Whitney Houston's daughter gets a piece of that action, too. How can I criticize a system that will generate more financial security for a young woman who just lost her mother?
I realize that I may be coming off as uncaring or even a bit cold right now. But that's not my intention.
Whitney Houston commanded top dollar for her performances. Her cut from album sales was not little. Yes, Houston was a talented artist, but she was also a capitalist who used her talents and skills to provide for her family. And I'm quite certain, had someone offered her a 60 percent premium on her downloadable music while she was alive, she wouldn't have turned it down. So why should we expect Sony or her family do the same now that she has gone gently into that good night?
At the time of her death, Whitney Houston's net worth was valued at around $80 million.
But her value to her family and friends: Priceless. And that doesn't change regardless of how much or how little Sony makes.
R.I.P Whitney Houston. You will be missed.