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On the record, the major distributors have asked all retailers to continue to abide by existing MAP policies until the FTC makes the demise official. But off the record, they have all conceded that it would now be foolish to enforce the lame-duck pricing guidelines too stringently .
MOVING FORWARD WITHOUT A MAP
No Salvos In The Coming Price War So Far, Major Retailers Still Not Low-Balling
Last week the FTC finally went public with the worst kept secret in the industry,

announcing that the Big Five record groups had all signed some form of a consent decree saying that they would be dropping their Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policies. And although it will probably be another four to six weeks before MAP will officially be off the books, most in the industry were bracing for an immediate price war with Britney Spears' new LP hitting the streets this week.

On the record, the major distributors have asked all retailers to continue to abide by existing MAP policies until the FTC makes the demise official. But off the record, they have all conceded that it would now be foolish to enforce the lame-duck pricing guidelines too stringently.

So has anyone fired the first volley in the MAPless era? Apparently not yet. We called around to find what people were charging, and it appeared to be business as usual.

Yes, retailers are breaking MAP on Britney. But it's the same retailers that have always broken MAP prices on certain titles, without advertising those discounts. The phrase "Guaranteed Low Price," used in lieu of an actual number in the ad, means a retailer is technically not breaking MAP policies.

Retailers have always been able to sell product for whatever price they chose, without putting that price in print. The MAP price on Britney is $14.88. A number of merchandisers are selling the release for less, but not at wholesale (around $11.50 after discounts) or below.

Wal Mart has Britney priced at $13.88 at their brick-and-mortar stores and $13.28 on their Web site. Circuit City and Best Buy both have it at $13.99. The most aggressive price we found was at Boston-based Newbury Comics at $12.88, although once again the album was not advertised at that price.

Most other outlets have it priced the CD at MAP or above, including Target, Musicland, Transworld and Wherehouse.

However, it's also possible that Britney might not be the correct litmus test to find out if a price war will break out. Most retail advertising circulars have to be printed far in advance of a record's street date, and the news of MAP's demise is still just a few weeks old.

Insiders at Best Buy are still adamant they will not be the first to start a major price war. But others have continued to stay mum on the subject. And why not? If anyone were going to start a war, what would it benefit them to tip their hand? Maybe people will actually wait for the FTC to make MAP history before they start slashing prices.

But not likely.

Stay tuned.

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