On my radar: If music be the food of love, all you have to do is download it

2014-05-15 10:00

At the recent SA Music Awards (Samas), it was interesting to see a crop of new awards under a new category division: bestselling mobile music download.

The awards in this new division included unusual benchmarks like bestselling true-tone, bestselling ring-back tone and bestselling full-track download.

New awards like these are indicators of how the combination of new technologies and tech-savvy consumers are forcing the music industry to adapt to a new world order.

The phrase “disruptive technologies” is being used more and more in the business realm?–?and with good reason.

The print media industry faced its digital Waterloo back in 2009. Newspapers were either dying or struggling to balance their (free) online offering without killing their printed versions.

The digital disruption then spread to the magazine industry and, in the process, disrupted the entire advertising and marketing industries. The conflict zone at the moment is in retail.

The seemingly schizophrenic behaviour of a hybrid online/offline customer is not only frustrating retailers, but blurring the communication channels.

How do you engage a customer that will not stand still??This is the question the music industry now has to ask itself – again.

In 2003, Apple opened the virtual door to its iTunes store and the music industry was forever altered. In the first week, more than a million songs were sold and downloaded. Suddenly, an industry terrified of online piracy had a legitimate place to earn money from digital music sales.

But what was revolutionary was the fact that music fans could buy a single track instead of the whole album. It was a massive game-changer. Today it is common practice (hence the somewhat ironic Sama for bestselling full-track download), but 10 years ago it was unheard of.

By 2010, iTunes became the largest music retailer on the planet. Today, it has 435?million registered users in 119?countries and recently offered its 25?billionth song.

Today, the music industry is facing a second disruption?–?this time, the curve ball is social media.

Pop star Katy Perry is the first musician to have garnered 50?million followers on Twitter. Quite an achievement, until you realise her peers and competitors have similar followers on other platforms like Facebook. Rihanna has 85?million Facebook fans while Perry can “only” boast 64?million.

The point is that 10 years ago, this type of cyberspace fan following was nonexistent and it is now revolutionising the way in which artists release their new albums.

Beyoncé used social media to announce her latest album. In three days, the album was downloaded 800?000 times and went platinum in two weeks.

Hubby Jay-Z struck a deal with Samsung before he launched his album Magna Carta?...?Holy Grail and sold the company 1?million copies via his app, which could be downloaded to its new phone. In essence, this meant that before the album was officially launched four days later, he already sold 1?million copies.

He later released the video exclusively on Facebook, the first artist to do so, and the video received 12?million views in an hour.

The backlash to all this has been interesting. Target, the US retail chain store, subsequently refused to stock Beyoncé’s album after her social media launch.

If the album had gone double platinum in the first two weeks, what was the point of marketing the album and using precious retail floor space when the core audience had already bought it digitally?

Besides the 14 songs on the album, Beyoncé’s iTunes offering came with 17 videos and tracks that featured her, Jay-Z, Drake and Frank Ocean. It’s difficult to compete with an instantaneous multimedia offering in a bricks-and-mortar environment.

A Target spokesperson issued this media statement: “At Target, we focus on offering our guests a wide assortment of physical CDs and when a new album is available digitally before it is available physically, it impacts on demand and sales projections.”

Since Beyoncé’s album release, other artists are following suit.

Rapper Kid Cudi released his new album Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon also with a simple, surprise tweet.

He hinted that something would be hitting the iTunes store at midnight: “Tickets to Copernicus Landing will be available for purchase via iTunes in the next 2 hours?…”

The album took just two days to go gold, selling 700?000 units.

So, while this is all well and good for the musicians, the associated industries that used to drive these album launches are understandably not amused.

With today’s disruptive technologies, you’re never sure who is friend or foe.

All it takes is a click of the mouse to change the game.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends (fluxtrends.com)

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