Exclusivity used to mean a different thing in the recording industry. When an artist was signed to a record label, the contracts stipulated what the artist could and could not do in terms of recording [i.e. no recording for other labels, required completion of a certain number of albums, etc.] That exclusivity did not apply to the distribution of the finished product. Once the records were made, they went as far as the distibutors could get them. Having your records in as many locations as possible would be the goal; more records + more locations = more sales.
This is no longer the chief meaning of exlusivity.
The above graphic is a screenshot from the iTunes music store. Icelandic singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini has a live EP available for sale. This is an iTunes exclusive, as indicated in the title. They do a bit of this in the iTunes store; it is no stretch of the imagination that they would be able to attract talent and offer them an exclusive release. The contracts likely allow for the proceeds to benefit all involved. Costs are certainly different than when records had to be pressed, covers printed, and the items distributed into retail outlets. All this release and others like it require after the recording session is a small graphic to put in the store. iTunes could sell ten or ten thousand with the same miniscule overhead.
Other outlets are trying to ride out the last waves of ever-dwindling CD sales, and are doing so via a different sort of exclusivity.
Starbucks has gotten into the game with successful releases from giants as big as Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. The Bob Dylan release was available exclusively at Starbucks for 18 months. The New York Times reports that Sir Paul McCartney will be the first person signed to the new Starbucks record label Hear Music.
USA Today reports that the next release from 70s superstars The Eagles will be available exclusively from Wal-Mart for the first year. Other artists will be releasing hand-selected compilations through Target stores.
Things have taken a 180 degree turn — now instead of focusing on getting the releases
in as many retail points as possible, releases are being limited in distribution on purpose.
I suppose being limited to Starbucks and Wal-Mart isn’t really being limited at all, given their ubiquity.