Prince: So Close, Yet So Far
from the so-right,-but-so-wrong dept
The musician Prince has been quite fascinating to follow over the years from a business model perspective. He has aggressively experimented, and for a while seemed to be the perfect example of a musician who understood how to embrace new business models allowed by the internet. He was creating tons of new music, some of which he was giving away free in order to promote scarce aspects of his business model, such as concerts (he sold out 21 straight concerts in London after giving away his latest CD totally free), while also embracing the idea of getting people to pay him upfront to create music. He also experimented with things like having companies sponsor him, setting up a subscription fan club and even owning a dance club in Vegas where he would perform regularly. All were perfect examples of the sorts of business models that we talk about all the time. And the model was clearly quite successful for Prince, helping him to earn quite a bit of money off of those scarcities.
Yet, about a year ago, we all began to realize that, as successful as Prince had been in embracing these new business models, he had yet to realize why they worked, and started to attack the very tools that made them so successful. For example, he sued YouTube, eBay and The Pirate Bay. Then he went after fan sites and even a bunch of musicians who made a tribute album for his birthday. And, of course, he famously was involved in a few cases of demanding people take down YouTube videos that just happen to have Prince music playing in the background.
The problem is that he while he’s benefited from these tools that made various scarcities (the creation of new music, concerts, etc.) more valuable, he seems to overvalue the content and undervalue (extremely) those tools. Thus, he seems totally against the idea of anyone else being able to profit from the music, even if it means he profits more from it. It’s a common mistake, but Prince seems to have taken it to extremes. He’s benefited so much from these models — and in misunderstanding them, he risks destroying his legacy. He could have been a pioneer adored by fans, like Trent Reznor — but, instead, he’s been taking a very anti-fan approach. While there are still plenty of diehards, his views have turned off many former fans.
It’s tragic, too, because you read interviews like one he just did where he expresses his disdain for the internet these days, and you just wish he would make the connection. He’s right about music, by itself, not being a good product to sell online, but then misses the point that this isn’t a bad thing if you use it (as he himself has done repeatedly) to drive more business to other parts of your business model:
“Today, it’s not realistic to expect to put out new music and profit from it. There’s no point in trying to put new music out there and keep it from being (exploited).”
And that’s why you build business models (again, as he himself has done) where the musician benefits from that “exploitation.”
It’s really too bad that such a pioneer doesn’t even realize how he was a pioneer, and is now trashing part of what made him so successful.