Monday, March 12, 2012

A Pirate's Review of One Business Model

There were a handful of comments posted after I put up my original open letter on Step2. Nearly all of them were positive remarks and several others added good information that I overlooked. Once Techdirt featured my letter on March 8th, things got a tad more hectic. On Techdirt and elsewhere, people critical of my file-sharing started voicing their opinions, it was pretty entertaining to watch. But it also appeared to me that the critics either didn't understand my intent or didn't read the entire letter. Or maybe they did understand, but they despise me nonetheless.

My point was: here is why I pirate and here is why I buy. I wasn't trying to justify file-sharing or explain why I'm entitled to free stuff. The critics were so focused on the fact that I was getting free copies, that they appeared to ignore that I was basically giving a blueprint to creators on how to monetize my behavior. I was giving creators step-by-step instructions on how to convert a pirate who doesn't (or won't) buy your stuff into a pirate that will buy your stuff.

One of the creators who seemed to notice what I was doing was Matthew Bile of the band Walking Corpse Syndrome:

"... On our Facebook page, I recently did a poll where I asked people how much they thought digital albums should cost. I was of the mindset that if an album cost $1.99, I'd be buying a lot more albums again. Most people voted for $5.99, so I put our albums for sale at $4.99. I haven't seen any increase in sales, nor do I really expect to."

I like Matthew's idea of investigating a digital album price point. I don't think Facebook is the best place to get the information though. Pretty much the only people who would answer a Facebook poll are friends and fans. Friends likely won't tell you they'd only pay $1, they're probably going to inflate their number. And fans who follow you on Facebook and participate in your polls are not casual fans, they are they type of fan who will usually pay more than others, so I don't think the $6 result is all that accurate. I'm always down for checking out new music, so I looked into Matthew's band.

From a consumer standpoint, Matthew's doing several things that I like a lot. They have an actual website with real information and not just a dormant MySpace page. They have poked their finger into all the major social media sites so I can follow them however I like. Facebook, Twitter, Reverb Nation, Amazon, YouTube, it's all there. I can easily get tour dates (with times, maps and phone numbers no less!) They've got photos, videos, lyrics and a store all right there. I can stream what appears to be full length versions of every song on their most recent album. Kudos Matthew.

However, there are some things that turn me off. When you hit their homepage, you are greeted with "New Album Available Now!" and right below that it says, "Available on CD or as mp3 Digital Download. 11 Tracks - $10.00." Wait a second. $10 for an mp3 album? In Matthew's response to my open letter, he said:

"It's insulting to see digital albums for sale at $10."

And yet he's doing the same thing. Didn't he say he reduced the digital album to $5 based on the Facebook poll? What gives? Clicking on the advertisement takes you into their store where you can only buy the physical CD for $10. However, if you click through to Amazon you get $9 mp3 albums. It's not until you get to CD Baby that you finally find $5 mp3 albums. If you're paying attention, you'll realize I only found the $5 albums because I knew the whole story and dug around until I found them. Way more effort than I normally would put into it.

But now let's pretend I didn't know the back story and I just stumbled across Matthew's band as a casual visitor. I would immediately be turned off by the impression of a $10 mp3 album. These guys expect me to pay $10 for a local band of (to me) unproven talent when I can get the newest release of a band I know I like for less money? Seriously? I feel you're trying to screw me and I haven't heard a single note of your music. At this point, I might listen to the streams to see if I like it. If I like what I heard, I'll try to pirate it. If I can pirate it, and it's good, I'm becoming a fan and I'll be looking for your next album to come out. If I can't pirate it, you've lost me forever. Your price point is too high for me to care.

Let's go back and pretend it's my first visit to Matthew's site. And let's also pretend the graphic correctly depicts a $5 mp3 album option. I'll listen to the streams to see if I like the music. From here, I go down one of four paths.

Path 1: I didn't like what I heard. Can I think of anyone I know who might like this? Yes = email them the link. No = move on.

Path 2: I kind of like what I heard. It's not worth $5 to me yet, I'm not really sure if it's worth anything to me yet. I really need to listen to this stuff some more to see if I actually like it or not. But I also have other stuff to do. I'd like to listen to it while I drive to work next week. I can't sit here all day clicking the play button. Let's check the file-sharing sites.

-- Path 2a: Nope, they're not on the file-sharing sites. Oh, well, let's hope I remember (or care) enough to check them out again later. At this point, you may have lost me forever.

-- Path 2b: Sweet, just grabbed both of their albums from The Pirate Bay. After listening to it again, it didn't move me. Can I think of anyone who might like this? Yes = send them the files. No = delete files. But if I did like the music after extended listening, I'm back at your site seeing what else you've got. I'm now a fan. I will buy your next album. Will I absolutely buy the two albums I just downloaded? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. It depends on if you've made it easy for me. If the only option is iTunes, then no, I'm not buying either of them. But Matthew has given me several options to buy the album so I can pick my favorite one. I would probably buy one of the albums and would consider buying both. If only there were a discount for buying both albums.

Path 3: This stuff is pretty sweet. I want to support these guys. I'll buy both albums. Hmm, do I want the physical CD or the mp3? Good thing Matthew gave me a choice.

Path 4: Holy shit! This is the greatest music I've ever heard. Thank god they offer physical CDs. I need to rip this things to flac, mp3 just ain't gonna cut it. When's the next album coming out?

Keep in mind, these paths are only traveled if I can easily hear the music. If you make me jump through hoops to hear the music or if you only offer 30-second samples, I've already moved on to another band. I have never emailed a friend a link to Amazon and said, "Hey, check these guys out." But I have emailed someone several mp3 files and said, "Hey, check these guys out."

Next post: Recommendations for Matthew.

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