The analogue-era music business traded on scarcity. It was the record labels and retailers’ absolute control of supply that created scarcity of music product. If you wanted a high quality version of a song or album you had to buy it, when, where and for how much the labels and retailers decided. In June 1999 Shawn Fanning launched Napster and in an instant scarcity was not only thrown out of the window, the window was instantaneously bricked up behind it. The contagion of free has now reached epidemic proportions (due to both licensed and unlicensed sources). Consequently we are now in the post-scarcity age, which has made music buying a lifestyle choice. It has changed music buying from opt-out to opt-in.
If there is to be a mainstream future for music products, it will come from creating new scarcity that people want to pay for. Of course it is no longer possible to ensure the music itself remains scarce, but it is possible to build scarce experiences around music and additional assets. This is exactly what the guys at PledgeMusic have done in conjunction with former X Factor contestant Janet Devlin.
I’ve been a long term admirer of PledgeMusic’s model and approach, but I am particularly impressed with this release. Firstly, fans get the option to select music from a typical Pledge menu of products ranging from the standard CD, through to highly personalized products like a Skype chat with the artist, a personally dedicated video performance and even appearing on the album. Though the unit prices go high (£500 to appear on the album) these are scarce experiences that simply cannot be got on a torrent. Of course many of these options don’t scale too well, but some of the intermediate products like exclusive concerts and signed albums most certainly do. Also, all pledgers also get the download of the album before it is released anywhere else, a semi-scarce commodity, but nonetheless a great way to communicate value and exclusivity to fans.
What I like most about this release though, is the clever use of the pre-release cycle as an artist subscription. Anyone who pledges will get a steady stream of content from Devlin as she progresses on her work with the album. She will release exclusive (i.e. scarce) content such as video, audio and photo blogs to these pledgers, giving them a window into the creative process, deepening their engagement with her and most importantly, building up interest and demand for the release of the album. In many respects Devlin is taking a leaf out of the X Factor’s book, recognizing the immeasurable value of creating a community of fans and building their interest and engagement with exclusive content right up to a final release.
One of the reasons I like this release so much is of course because it ticks so many of the boxes of my Music Format Bill of Rights report (which you can download for free here). But make no mistake, creating scarce experiences and seeding fan communities with scarce content is going to be at the centre of future music products. Not everything here is entirely new or unique of course, but the unifying vision is most certainly that of the future. Janet Devlin and PledgeMusic are assuming the role of pioneers here and their peers will do well to pay heed.