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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

8 Simple Rules for Selling Music in Today's Market

The music blogsphere is all a twitter having a good laugh at slotMusic, this month's savior of the recording industry. Once again, this is an idea so silly, so outdated (not to mention they've already tried, and failed, at selling music on a memory card once before,) and so clueless that any half interested school kid could tell you why this isn't going to work.

Since I've already missed the first wave of specific slotMusic bashing, and since I'm getting tired of making a post every couple of months outlining all the same reasons whatever new thing big content is trying to roll out is going to fail, I'm going for a more general approach to this post. I feel pretty confident these rules apply to slotMusic or the next download store or whatever else they want to cook up.

So here they are, in a rough order of importance:

1. Your music must be iPod compatible. While other mp3 players are making inroads, the iPod is still the market leader and probably will be for a long time. Tying files with non-Apple compatible DRM or making the files much more difficult to transfer to an iPod than pushing one button is an almost certain trip to the dustbin of history.

2. You are competing with free.The big companies see Apple's .99 cents per track/$9.99 an album as a good starting point, but the truth is, it's pretty much the end of the line. When it's as easy (if not easier) to find an unauthorized free download for a vast majority of the music out there as it is to actually buy it, the closer you are getting to free, the more likely you are to have people turn to legit music services rather than blogs or torrents.

3. Convenience is key. Music blogs don't require the use of a convoluted download manager. Most torrents have files properly tagged and organized. Both bring the music straight to your desktop, ready to load on the mp3 player of your choosing, without having to leave the house. A surprising number of the legal download services I've used miss one or more of these things. When you make people work for something they've already paid for, it tends to push them back to the people offering it as they want it, for free.

4. If you don't have it, they can't buy it. As much as I love eMusic, I don't see anyway a new music service could survive without the full support of the four major labels and a healthy selection of the biggest indies. The iTunes and Amazons of the world have conditioned customers to expect pretty much anything they want, when they want it. If you don't have it, they will find it elsewhere.

5. Physical media is dying. The problem isn't that customers want a shiny new format. They aren't asking for a successor to the CD. They don't want gimmicky memory cards and, once the trend/nostalgia dies down, they won't be buying vinyl. People don't want anything they have to go to the store for. They don't want anything taking up more space. Aside from a dwindling number of holdouts, people just don't want stuff. All they want is the music and it is entirely possible to have one without the other.

6. Less DRM, not more. Ahh, digital rights management. How those on the Internet do love to hate you. Well, that hatred (or at least awareness of what you ever are) is starting to spill over from a small, but vocal, group of people to a more mainstream consumer. (See the Spore backlash on Amazon for instance.) With Yahoo and Microsoft announcing shutdowns of their authentication servers, more people are experiencing the worst case scenario with DRM encoded files and vowing to have nothing to do with them in the future.

7. It's time for bitrates to go up. When the iTunes Music Store launched, the 128kbp was justified by the fact that it created smaller files and boadband was just starting to cut into dial-up's domination. Now that really isn't as much of an issue as the number of users still on dial-up is small. Consumers are also starting to expect higher quality, as the novelity factor of the format has worn off. Devices can store more in smaller packages. There's no reason not to take advantage of this.

8. If you are keeping up, you're falling behind. What I mean is this; look at the market leaders Apple and Amazon. They have a huge market share and I think people are mostly satisfied with the service those two provide. If you are doing less than what they are, you're already dead, but even if you are providing something similar, people are going to need a little more to convince them to check you out. Improving on any of the previous seven rules I've mentioned is a good start, but I'm talking about going above and beyond even that.

For a start, how about bringing album art back? Yes, I know some albums on the iTunes Music Store come with a digital booklet but I think there's plenty of potential to improve on what they've done and make it more common.

Then there's all the extra stuff they've been throwing in with CDs to try to make them more appealing. I'm talking about videos, ringtones, etc. Instead of seeing these things as additional profit centers, how about bundling them with albums, like they do with the physical CD? Give the consumer a little extra reason to buy the album from you (and DON'T raise the price.)

I could go on, but I think I've done enough of the music industry's work for them already today. So, these are my 8 Simple Rules for Selling Music in Today's Market. What do you think? Did I miss something? Am I crazy? Or is it already too late? (I'm still considering that last one as a very real possibility.) Drop a comment and let me know what you think.


mbnjmntrb said...

#7 is my biggest gripe right now, and it ties directly to #3; i have a better chance of finding a new cd ripped at the highest bitrate for free in someones directory than i am finding the same album from the label.

but i must say, these rules are only simple for those companies that can afford to do so. well, maybe that you are writing about it shows that no, they arent that simple.

Ryan said...

Looks complete to me. I might even tolerate some Apple-style DRM if I could get lossless (or at least 320kbps) files. But they'd be better off without it. There's no sense in punishing people for doing the right thing and buying the music.

Rob G. said...

Maybe they aren't that simple. I don't know. To me, these seem like the main complaints everyone has and I see new solutions rolled out that miss a great deal of these things and I just slap my forehead.

@mbnjmntrb, agree 100%. When it's so easy to find 320kpb or even lossless rips, how are people still trying to charge for 128kpb? It's stupid.

@ryan, I might too. Lossless would be ideal, but I've only heard of one company (Music Giant?) doing it, and it's some sort of WMA lossless with DRM and complete lack of Apple compatibility. And, IIRC, it cost more than the actual CD version. And you didn't even get artwork. Dumb!