iTunes Gets One Step Closer To Letting You Subscribe To A Band

from the sorta-maybe-possibly dept

One of the early business models we had suggested for the recording industry way back in 2003 was the idea of letting fans “subscribe” to a band — giving them all sorts of benefits, while still making the music itself free. The idea was that you would effectively join an exclusive club, that would get you access in one way or another. It’s been surprising that we haven’t seen this sort of business model take off all that much, with most of the success stories so far focusing on tiered album release plans. However, it looks like Apple is moving just a little bit towards such a “subscription” offering, with its experimental “iTunes Pass” solution for the latest Depeche Mode release.

It is, as always, great to see new experiments in terms of music business models — but, again, this one seems to get the business model backwards. Effectively, Apple and the band (or, rather, its label) are asking Depeche Mode fans to pay $9 extra for some vague promises of future benefits that aren’t at all defined. And, all of it seems to be focused around the digital content (the stuff that people are a lot less interested in paying for, and which can be used — for free — to promote more scarce parts of a business model). Also, the “pass” isn’t much of a subscription, since it only lasts for a few months. I’m sure some diehard fans will pony up, but it’s not exactly a compelling reason to buy at all.

To design a good subscription plan, you could simply let anyone get the pure music for free, but offer tiered yearly plans that provide extra benefits: earlier access to the content (get the latest single before your friends!), access to a private chat room that the band actually hangs out in, opportunities to buy tickets to shows before anyone else, a chance to win backstage passes to meet the band, and (my personal favorite) an opportunity to win a private show or a “backyard” concert. Then, the more the music is out there and enjoyed, the more worthwhile it is for fans to sign up to this program. Will there be free riders? Absolutely. Will there be more free riders than members? Probably. Does it matter? Not at all. Because you’ll have a situation where everyone is happy. The band is making more money than before, the band has more fans than before with more people listening to their music, and the band’s true fans are more closely connected to the band. And, oh yeah, no one’s suing anyone or demanding payment. It’s really not that difficult.

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Comments on “iTunes Gets One Step Closer To Letting You Subscribe To A Band”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Prez should listen only to patriotic tunes

I’M MADDER than Jon Bon Jovi getting held down for a arine-style buzz cut that Michael Steele has been listening to goofy rock ‘n’ roll music on his iPod!

That’s right, folks. The GOP just released the list of tunes that Mike Steele downloaded onto his gizmo and it includes junk like “My Sharona” by The Knack, Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and even that idiotic song “The House is Rockin’ ” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The Leader of the GOP should be listening to uplifting, patriotic tunes like “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the marching music of the great John Philip Sousa or “The Ballad of the Green Berets” that’ll put him in the mood to kick terrorist butt — not filling his head with silly rock ‘n’ roll garbage!

How are the Republicans supposed to pump up our troops to liberate Iraq when the leader has been chilling out to some mellow music fit for a beach party? He’s the Republican Leader, by jiminy — not some surfer dude waiting to “hang ten” on the next big wave.

Heck, even that wussy song “Centerfield” by John Fogerty is on the first iPod. That peacenik Fogerty was one of the left-wingers on that Vote For Change tour that fought tooth and nail to keep Bush from getting re-elected. Geez, Mike might as well download “The Best of the Dixie Chicks” while he’s at it.

I reckon next we’ll see Michael booty-dancing with Laura to the latest gansta rap nonsense from that hoodlum Snoop Dog, or making his whole cabinet do the Electric Slide.

If we wanted a Republican Leader who was going to put his stiff dance moves on display, we’d have voted in Al “Watch me do the Macarena” Gore back in the day, for crying out loud. At least Tipper would be sure to censor out all racy lyrics before they wound up on his iPod.

Dick Cheney also needs to get on the ball and delete all that rock from the Presidential iPod — pronto.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily agree with all the holy rollers at my church who swear that rock is the devil’s music (although it’s a safe bet Lucifer has more Marilyn Manson than Glenn Miller stuff on HIS iPod.) Heck, my wife Thelma Jean and I were the first couple on our block to learn The Twist.

If we’re going to take over at the next election, we better start listening to a wholesome rock tune from good ol’ Pat Boone or even an occasional ditty from the King himself, Elvis Presley, that’s fine and dandy. But none of this newfangled head-banger trash kids listen to today.

Mind you, I personally wouldn’t be caught dead with one of those ridiculous iPod’s. I’ll stick with the hi-fi the publisher gave me as a Christmas gift back in ’72. It still works fine as ever.

And don’t count on Thelma slapping one on either. She’s scared stiff she could “catch some kind of computer virus” from the Internet.

But if the next Republican Prez needs to have music pumped into his ear to relax and unwind between invasions and signing bills, that’s all right by me — as long as he sticks to decent, all-American music.

:Lobo Santo says:

Re: Prez should listen only to patriotic tunes

Yo vato! Scum like you should just die.
This nation was made great by IMMIGRATION and Genetic Diversity. Fascist dicks like you barely deserve to have an opinion, in fact; I’m amazed you can even read.

Go back to 1947, you’ll be happier. Leave the present and future to those of us who know what to do with it.

Joel Coehoorn says:


Since we’re unlikely to see an immediate jump to a subscription like you propose here, how about at least offering a real way to get a “subscription” to a band’s content on iTunes: you sign up to that band (for free), and every time the band releases new content iTunes automatically downloads it for you and bills your account, perhaps with a small discount since it would amount to a pre-order.

wait what? says:

wait what?

are you talking about a paid subscription per band? So if I want to listen to X, Y and Z bands I need to pay $30 buck a year (saying it’s $10 per band per year). So I have 700 artists in my iTunes collection, that comes to about 7k a year to listen to their music? This makes no sense at all…I don’t care how much music they put out….Am I missing something?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: wait what?

As per Mike’s model, you’d only be paying $7,000 a year if you want the added bonuses for each band.

Exactly. Effectively, you would pay for as many bands as you might have bought a CD for in the past (the fee should be less than a CD/year). Except you end up getting much more for it. So, in the end, you get more music, more benefit, more value… and you pay about the same as you would have in the past.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d criticize that idea, but it depends on the delivery. Are you talking about the hard copy or digital? Otherwise you would still have the obvious problem of it being freely available at or before the first release.

I’m not so sure that’s an “obvious problem.” Of course the music would quickly show up elsewhere, but the benefit would be being among the *very first* to get that content — being personally alerted to it.

uhmno says:

Hardcore Depeche Mode fans are completists and the band is well known for issuing many remixes, b-sides and such, for each single…

(go check out their page, and check out all the versions of Enjoy the Silence, for example, that were issued within 4 months of the original single’s release.)

So, in a way, for completist DM fans, the “get it all for $19” makes sense.

The real question is, ever since they were a “band that kind-of-mattered”, how many such fans are there left?

Jonas says:

Re: Re:

“The real question is, ever since they were a “band that kind-of-mattered”, how many such fans are there left?”

Considering that:
1. They don’t get as much airtime (on traditional radio that is) as they used to when they were at their peek, popularity-wise, even when they have new material out.
2. Their shows are sold out after about an hour or so.

(note: this is in the European countries I’m familiar with). Don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere).

So I’d say they probably have some hardcore fans left…still, I’m not convinced Depeche Mode would be a good band to gauge the success of this. Like you said, their fans are often completists and incredible loyal. Even if this turns out to be a success, I wonder how much of that success can be transfered to bands with a less loyal fanbase.

whitneymcn (profile) says:

Already happening, to some extent

I’m late to the party on this one, but it’s worth noting that the subscription model is already available to artists using Topspin Media to distribute their work.

The one case where I’m “subscribed” to an artist it’s also been mostly digital-focused [I get a year’s worth of stuff: so far one album, a few subscriber-only alternate take sort of downloads, though I believe there’s a vinyl copy of the album coming as well], but I think that the tools can handle the kinds of non-digital ideas you’ve been talking about.

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