My blog is about exchanging ideas and best practices on all things marketing and communications related. I'm interested in your thoughts, feedback, additions, arguments and point of view.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Radiohead - Seeing Rainbows...

According to Nielsen SoundScan, retail sales of CDs in the US have fallen by 20% in 2007. Eighty-nine million CDs were sold in the first three months of this year compared with 112 million during the same period in 2006. Even the growth of digital music downloads failed to pick up the slack, with overall album sales dropping 10%. (SoundScan counts every 10 downloads as a "digital album.")

By contrast, individual song downloads are up 20% from the same period last year, to a record 288 million. Customers are exercising control over their media experience - cherry picking songs rather than downloading entire albums and being stuck with tunes that end up dragged directly to the recycle bin.

Singing the blues.
Arguably more than any other, the Music industry has been suffering from technology’s affect on their business model. From a splintering audience, increasingly complex distribution channels, free downloads, and reinterpretations and challenges of existing copyright law, music companies are frequently cut out of the transaction when music is swapped and traded. And some would say the industry has been slow to address this rapidly changing marketplace.

When heavy metal band Metallica heard a demo of their song “I Disappear,” circulating across Napster, even before it was released, the band quickly launched a lawsuit in 2000. The band won, Napster filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002 and was later acquired by Roxio, but the existing distribution channels and copyright laws were forever changed.

That’s why I listened closely to a promotion by the band Radiohead to promote their new record, “In Rainbows.” An industry first for a band this size, they allowed people to set their own price for downloading it – from $0 to the sky’s the limit. People could pay whatever they thought it was worth. And Radiohead would watch to see what happened.

Why Radiohead?
Radiohead seemed to be the best case to test a ‘pay-what-you-can” approach. They have a large, loyal audience composed of educated, sophisticated listeners, the sort who may actually care a bit about the issue of how artists are compensated. Plus a reader survey in the British music magazine New Music Express asked fans how much they would pay – most said an average of $10. Not scientific but anecdotally it confirmed what they were already thinking.

Results so far.
According to ComScore, of the 1.2 million visitors to Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” website between October 1-29, 62% of customers who downloaded the album did so without paying – and 17% spent $4 or less. On a happier note, many of the payers, about 12%, paid between $8 and $12 per copy. This translated to an average $2.26 per download. Not great results if revenue is the only metric.

Interestingly, other music research done in this pay-what-you-can approach suggests fans are much more likely to pay less money for music from mega rich artists like J-Lo, Gwen, and Justin. They won’t miss it, right?

Lesson Learned - again.

For me, the Radiohead “pay-what-you-want” promotion succeeded in many ways if you look beyond just the money.

First, the approach generated millions of dollars in media coverage, far more than the label would probably have spent on promotion.

Second, the distribution model was less costly, meaning better gross margins with more money ending up in the band's pocket.

Third, in this age of digital downloads, trying new approaches and challenging old ones, the golden rule of marketing still applies - 20% of the band's customers generated 80% of the revenues.

Now that's a classic tune worth sharing.

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