Price hikes after celebrity deaths show bigger issue

Price hikes after celebrity deaths show bigger issue. (credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor) Price hikes after celebrity deaths show bigger issue. (credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor)

Whitney Houston’s death last week elicited sympathy, renditions of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and profit. After Houston died, Sony briefly raised the price of two of her albums on the British iTunes. We should not condone price increases of a product following the creator’s death.

Houston died on Feb. 11. Early last Sunday, the cost of Houston’s CD The Ultimate Collection was raised to the equivalent of almost $5 on iTunes in Britain; The Greatest Hits was raised to the equivalent of more than $3. These changes were reverted by Sunday evening, but Sony executives didn’t comment until Tuesday, when they claimed that the price changes were a mistake.

Journalist Dan McDermott reported through Google Plus that Netflix removed Houston’s DVD so Sony could make more money. Netflix later denied the claims, stating that it had lost the rights to use it at the beginning of 2012, an event unrelated to Houston’s death little over a month later.

The righteous indignation in response to these actions (misplaced as they may have been in Netflix’s case) shows that sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves. In one sense, the laws of supply and demand in a free market would seem to encourage a corresponding price hike on Houston’s albums. What makes us uncomfortable with the idea of raising prices in response to her death is the implication that Houston is worth more dead than alive.

The American public has grown increasingly aware of its role in undoing the health of stars. We simultaneously condemn and support paparazzi who put pressure on celebrities to live a certain way. In Houston’s case — which is especially jarring considering her battle with drugs and alcohol — the tie between the public’s insatiable appetite for commercial products and someone’s death is too much to bear.

We should condemn price hikes, not because they are wrong, but because we are.