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.

15 thoughts on “PledgeMusic, Janet Devlin and Reinventing Scarcity in the Post-Scarcity Age

  1. if i wasnt disabled and could work i might have £500 and i would love the chance to sing with janet devlin,i might nit be a very good singer but the experience would be amazing.that idea sounds so cool,janet devlin is easily one of the top 3 contestants on xfactor EVERand whatever janet does it will be a huge success

  2. Pingback: Well this was an interesting read… | Janet

  3. The little Lady who catches a bus to entertain 84,000 people in Dublin and catches the bus back home is a star in my book well done Janet with your album. I have made my pledge

  4. The concept is brilliant and works in this instance. Where interest and a fan base matches the pledge total required it is the perfect solution to the lack of scarcity.
    Some of the most interesting and innovative works comes from less developed “brands” than Janet. Pledging wouldn’t work for them. Solutions are still needed for developing artists to gain the maximum reward for themselves from their talent.
    I hope innovations like this continue.

  5. @deibach98 – innovations like this do continue right now; although the hot topic now is streaming – it’s no revolution at all, it’s just “radio on demand”. What streaming services will never offer is satisfying the very basic need: to possess things. With streaming you never “own” music like you used to back in the time, and it’s a big issue on a long run.

  6. Janet staying true to herself. It is so good to see someone treading their own path and not joining the pool. Well done Janet. I have pledged and intend to further pledge.

  7. In my original comment I wrote that I was surprised that this conclusion is published only now. My view on concepts like Pledge Music and Kickstarter (and in my country there is at least one aimed at creative/art products) are platforms for ‘scarce products’. Without the creation of special, limited or even unique editions I doubt the business model would work at all. The limited edition i(or scarcity) model s the alternative to convincing (small) investors through shares in the eventual product.
    I was surrprised because I understand that this point of view is new to you. But perhaps I misunderstood (i’m no native English speaker).

  8. Jos – no, not new to the topic at all, in fact I’ve been writing reports on the topic since the late 2000’s – here’s a link to a blog post for a Forrester report I wrote about media product innovation in the age of content scarcity back in 2009

    The report wrote which I link to in the blog above also focuses on scarcity.

    There are a number of key themes which I try to further in this blog (scarcity, product innovation, competing with free etc) and whenever a great example comes along of someone trying to address one of those issues (as was the case here) I blog about it.

    I’ve followed Pledge since their earliest days, and indeed precursors like sellaband and mymajorcompany . What made this particular implementation stand out was combination of:
    – the good use of the pre-sales cycle to create an artist subscription dynamic
    – the use of dynamic content updates
    – good grasp of the importance of ‘money can’t buy’ product experiences
    – that it is a first release for a potentially mainstream success artist

    And as per my final paragraph:
    “Not everything here is entirely new or unique of course, but the unifying vision is most certainly that of the future.”

    Thanks for your feedback Jos – it is appreciated and I respect your work. I just wanted to clarify that I’m not new to this concept!!


  9. I know of your work and achievements, Mark, and I have a huge respect for your analyses and insights. That exactly the reason of my surprise. The angle that you present here is exactly the one I have been looking from at initiatives such as PM and KS right from the start. In fact my first vinyl release was done with the same principle: people could pre-order a copy and as soon as I had 100 subscribers I started production. The cover of each copy was different and signed and numbered. But that was 1989… 🙂 So, the PM / KS initiative to me was just the digital version of that 1989 business model. It was even better.

  10. nice post .its true that The analogue-era music enterprise swapped on scarcity. It was the online music store and retailers’ unconditional control of provide that created shortage of melodies product.

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