Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Enough about "Free"

I think most music is and will be free. Lots of people play and record music for their own pleasure. They do it for self-expression. Finding an audience is a bonus. They willingly provide their music to listeners for free.

And so much music is available online for free (both legally and illegally) that free has become the expectation for many fans and artists.

Reinforcing that trend, a number of bloggers have been touting the free music model. They don't mean that musicians shouldn't be paid, but that giving away something for free (or using the "pay-what-you-want" model) is good marketing and will lead to sales of some sort. Here are some of the more prominent "free" discussions.
Mike Masnick's music business model articles for Techdirt  (He has posted so many articles about free and its variations that I'll just point you to a search list of them.)

But now that the subject has been covered so much, is there anything left to say? The war has been won. "Free" has become a reality in music. No need to sell the idea anymore.

So let's move on to discussions about what fans WILL buy. (And by this, I don't mean more discussions about digital music pricing. That topic has been done to death, too. And I'm also not talking about "monetization." That concept may be relevant to startups but doesn't really tell us much about fan purchase behavior.) In these tough economic times, what are we learning about the economic exchange between fans and artists? 

One of the few places that is actually providing some info about direct marketing to fans is this site. They aren't yet giving specifics about who is selling and who is buying what, but it is a start.

And here is a link from the radio show Hearts of Space explaining what they have done.
No one was going to give us any kind of funding, and our traffic numbers made any thought of advertising support a fantasy.

That said, it has taken us a long time to understand the value calculation that users make when deciding whether to pay. We have found that the entire area is very nuanced, and the relationship between free, paid, and 'freemium' models takes careful experimentation to get right. We wound up with 3 major levels of service and no less than 25 different pricing options! (see PLANS at www.hos.com) "Cheap is the new free," spatial relations, 4/20/09 
Also: Why Pay for Hearts of Space?

Free is the reality. But don't tell me about it anymore. 

Suzanne Lainson
@slainson on Twitter

UPDATE 9/13/09

Here's another resource if you want to explore the "give it away for free" discussion. Freemium Blog - 37 Best Freemium Links


  1. I agree that the most important thing at this point is to figure out the revenue piece. I just wrote a series of articles about this subject that I hope will provide a good starting point for artists as they start thinking about what their model will look like. In it I list 6 ways that artists can add value to their music.

    There are still things that listeners are willing to pay for - bands just need to examine their own audience and find out what is valuable to them. Free isn't - and wasn't ever - enough to get your music heard. If you don't have a clear revenue strategy (business model) you can give it all away until you have nothing left and you'll end up right back where you started.

  2. Thanks for the comment and also the link. I look forward to reading your blog and continuing the dialogue. It's a subject I've pondered for a number of years and love to talk about.


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