from the words-are-futile-devices dept
I operate under the conviction that people buy records because they want to own them, not because they want to hear them. It is too easy these days to hear a record without having to buy it. I don't resent that fact, rather I feel we at Asthmatic Kitty embrace it through streaming albums and offering several free mp3s (even whole free albums). And why do they want to own it? They want it to illustrate to others their taste and identify who they are as a person. I also believe they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to belong.So, we were disappointed last month when the label appeared to have sent out an email concerning the release of the band's biggest act, Sufjan Stevens, suggesting that Amazon's promotion of the album for $3.99 was somehow devaluing the music, telling fans:
Our job is no longer to sell folks things they want to hear. They want an experience and to identify themselves as part of a community. Ownership then becomes a way of them supporting your community through investing in that community. Fostering that in an honest, transparent and "non-gross" way takes a combination of gracefulness, creativity and not taking oneself too seriously, while still taking art and music seriously.
We also feel like the work that our artists produce is worth more than a cost of a latte. We value the skill, love, and time they've put into making their records. And we feel that our work too, in promotion and distribution, is also valuable and worthwhile.This seemed like a bit of an about-face, and we were also confused as to why the label would allow Amazon to promote its album if they didn't like the price. I also wondered if such promotional discounts even impacted the label's bottom line, as everything I'd heard suggest the labels still got the same cut on such discounted albums as they normally would.
John Beeler, who works for Asthmatic Kitty, now points us to an interview with the label's A&R guy, Michael Kaufmann, where he more or less admits that the label goofed in how it presented the email, and that it was never intended as a guilt trip or to suggest there was anything bad about the Amazon promotion. In fact, he now claims, they were actually excited about the Amazon promotion:
Unfortunately we poorly communicated this point. As Sufjan sings, "words are futile devices." When we first heard about the potential Amazon deal we were very excited to participate. For a small label like our own this was a great opportunity for essentially free marketing. It is a great program, Amazon is doing this as a loss leader, and therefore we still make the same amount of money we would have made at the regular sale price.That makes a lot of sense, and I apologize for contributing to blowing the story out of proportion, and apparently not providing the proper context, which I was unaware of at the time. I'm still a little confused about the claims in the original email about the "value" of music, but I understand that's a different discussion. In the meantime, the label seems back to recognizing that it's important to connect with fans in whatever manner possible, rather than guilting them:
So I am sure many folks are thinking, "What in the world is our problem?" What gave us pause was that we were also offering the album at a higher price and we wanted to make sure our customers knew that it would be available for half that price on street date through Amazon. We wanted to be honest and transparent about the coming deal so that folks who preordered at a higher price didn't feel like they have been misinformed, or had a lack of information to make an informed choice.
We never wanted to impose any sort of guilt on our consumers. To me this is in large part of what the record industry has been doing wrong: criminalizing music lovers. However, the message when taken away from the intended audience and often taken out of context read as if we were guilting people into buying direct from us. This was certainly not our intention, and if we had known this was how it was going to be perceived, we certainly would not have sent the email.
What we wanted to do was provide choices. And in the process we thought it would be an interesting opportunity to give food for thought on the perceived worth (or value) of an album. But that discussion should have taken place in a different context. The intent was certainly not to criticize of Amazon's approach. Rather, we hoped to spark conversation and examination of our methods of doing business real time with our customers. We didn't realize this spark was going to blow something up in our faces. Again, what we intended as a cursory thought of the email became the main focus of its criticism.
We want them to have the opportunity to hear our releases. We want them to have the opportunity to listen. We want them to take active part in deciding what it is worth to them to own our music by deciding how they purchase. The last thing we want to do is dictate price or guilt someone into a particular point of sale. That is pretentious for us to think we even can. It is a complex mechanism that involves supply, demand and all the other facets that make a market economy. We have our opinion, but that isn't meant to be an authoritative statement.
We do want to encourage folks to support us, and they are supporting us whether they buy it from Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Bandcamp or from their local record store. So ultimately their decision of where they buy and how much they pay is trivial, because they chose to support us in an age where it is so easy to just download for free.