PledgeMusic, Janet Devlin and Reinventing Scarcity in the Post-Scarcity Age

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.

Finally Someone Builds a Digital Music Service the Way It’s Meant to be Built!

Regular readers will know that I’ve been a long-term and vocal advocate of radical music product innovation.  There have been modest encouraging steps from a diverse mix of places, such as iTunes Pass, Topspin, Open EMI, Björk’s ‘Biophilia’ app, Swedish House Mafia’s ‘One’ app, Pledge Music etc.  All have edged forward disparate aspects of music product strategy but they have also all lacked a unifying framework to pull them together.  Today comes the first stab at a music service that pulls together many of those parts.  But it doesn’t come from one of digital music’s big players, nor from a major record label, but instead New York dance label Fools’ Gold Records with their Fools Gold: The Goldmine subscription service.

[EDIT: The Goldmine is powered by Drip.FM]

Subscribers get new and old music, curated content, remixes, DJ sets, extras, merchandize discounts, priority access to events and more.    This is almost exactly the list of product features that I laid out for the Music Product Manifesto back in 2009 so it should come as no surprise as quite how enthusiastic I am about the offering.

The reason I listed those attributes three years ago was that this broad selection of multimedia assets truly reflect what an artist is in the 21st century, so much more so than a CD or a download does.  They are also the assets which labels (majors in particular with their 360 deals) are increasingly becoming active in.  It is little short of a travesty that more has not been done until now.  Hopefully Fools Gold’s innovation bravery will help nudge the industry wide needle forward.

Of course it is much easier for a small label like Fools Gold to pull together the disparate artist assets necessary to create the holistic offering, but as I argued in my presentation to Midem in 2011, “the scale of the potential rewards is more than big enough to justify the sizeable effort: what is at stake is the entire future of premium music products.”

The Goldmine also ticks most of the boxes of my DISC principles that I laid out in my Music Format Bill of Rights (see figure):

Dynamic:  One of the things I like most about the service is its guarantee to deliver every new release on the label automatically to the user.  This is what music products need to do in the digital age, pushing relevant content to the consumer rather than relying on them to pull.

Interactive.  The service includes accapellas and remix stems for users to step out of passive listening into active creation.  This of course works perfectly for the dance music audience where a large share of the audience are aspiring DJs and producers.  A great next step would be some in built functionality that allows even the most novice user to play around with stems, perhaps  in the context of a social gaming environment.

Social. This seems to be the only key DISC element not catered for by the Goldmine, but they certainly have the building blocks to deliver on this, most notably the membership base.

Curated.  Fools Gold curate tracks from the archive as part of the service and in addition deliver exclusive content and extra content.

The Goldmine isn’t the full package, nor does it signify a turning point in music product strategy (because that requires major record labels to jump on board), but it does represent the bravest innovation step yet taken.

Fools Gold just set the standard for the rest to follow.