Head to Head: Should music be free? Part 1

Head to Head imageThis is from my work blog

…the first post in an occasional series called ‘Head to Head’, in which Promise employees publish email conversations they are having on topical issues.   The first debate comes from Oli and Jacob, who worked together out of our Dubai office in 2008, building Promise’s largest and longest running online community to date.

On their days off in Dubai they would debate all things interesting about the impact of the new era of mushrooming diversity, globalization and mediated communication – particularly in relation to the geeky world of the web.

Jacob thinks Oli is an unfailing cynic, hyper-critical of anything that smells like a fad or a bandwagon.  Oli thinks Jacob is way too optimistic and doesn’t want to hear him talk about ‘web 3.0’ or Twitter ever again.

They were arguing so much that Jacob was sent to our Washington, DC office.  These informal  posts are cut and pasted pretty much directly from their continuing email conversations…

Oli kicked off the debate with a link about  Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails releasing an iPhone App and generally being pretty innovative online:  building communities and pioneering ‘a new, fan-centered business model that radically breaks with the practices of the struggling music industry’.

Jacob: The way to make money as an artist is to build a massively engaged community online.  Monetize through concerts, (+ merchandising I suppose).  Love it.  I like his point about starting where the fans are.  Starting from the point that we expect a lot of that stuff to be free now.   I like it as another way to monetize eyeballs without relying on advertising.  The attention economy is not dead.

Oli: Yeah although I’m cautious you may have gotten the wrong end of the stick. Reznor doesn’t believe music should be free but he’s being pragmatic in a world where you are often competing against free.  He‘s done a lot of innovative stuff  selling his records.

His collaborative album with Saul Williams was released as a free MP3 or for $5 you could get it in a variety of higher quality formats including lossless.  Ghosts I-IV was available as a partial free download, a complete free stream as well as several paid editions at various price points. At the top end was a limited edition $300 CD/Vinyl/Blu-Ray deluxe pack with footage, original multi-track audio files, signed photography book etc. So he is doing what he can to actually retain the value in the music but unlike the record companies he’s starting from the premise that you need to show people the value in the product, not just demand that there is value in it.

A lot of things work well for him because he’s an established artist, but I like the fact that unlike the cynical Radiohead gimmick etc. he is actually looking into new business models that other artists could replicate (e.g. the Saul Williams case).

Jacob: Absolutely.  Not saying music should free.  Monetizing gigs and merchandise is still monetizing the music.   As you and he say it’s about being pragmatic and starting from where people are now (in terms of their attitude to music consumption), rather than moaning that people aren’t where you want them to be.  Paul Carr in No use crying over spilt ink is on a similar theme in relation to newspapers.

I think the new business model is the most interesting point.  It’s a different kind of community to what we do.  But, you’re right – he knows how to engage people.  The point of his new business model is to convert that engagement into revenue.

TBC shortly…


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