Prince Discovers That If You Charge People To Connect With You, You Actually Have To Connect

from the well-that-didn't-work dept

If you've never seen Kevin Smith's long, but quite funny, explanation of his week of making a documentary for Prince, it's quite worth watching -- just to get a sense of "Prince World" and the way Prince will have big ideas that he starts, but never does much to follow through on. With that as background, it's really not surprising to read about the absolute disaster that his recent "fan club" business model experiment became:
The result,, resembled a galactic aquarium, featuring doodads like a rotating orb that played videos. The promise: fans who ponied up $77 for a year-long membership would receive the three new albums, plus an ensuing flow of exclusive content, like unreleased tracks and archival videos.

A year later, LotusFlow3r has gone dark, thousands of Prince's fans are very annoyed and Clay has been dismissed from Prince's kingdom almost as abruptly as he was invited in.
The mess got a lot more attention lately when a supposed "glitch" (uh, ok...) started automatically charging fans credit cards for membership renewals, despite the fact that the site had gone dormant and people had specifically asked not to have their membership renewed.

There was a point, a few years back, where it looked like Prince would be the first rockstar to really embrace these sorts of new business models. He definitely was doing all kinds of experiments that involved getting people to pay for scarcities, often while giving the music away for free. And many of the experiments looked like they were done in a way to better connect with fans. But it quickly became apparent that Prince was missing a big element in all of this, in that while he wanted to connect with fans and give them a reason to buy, he also wanted to be massively controlling about it.

The one thing that artists who are successfully embracing these models are discovering is that, in part, you have to go with the flow, and see where your fans take you. Part of the connecting is listening to the fans, rather than just telling them how they must enjoy your works. Prince has never been particularly good at that aspect of the fan relationship. We've talked about the value of improvisational business modeling, where you do regular experiments -- and Prince certainly does that, but at no point does he seem to pay attention to how the fans react to the improvisations.

In the end, he seems entirely focused on his own whims, and while that may be entertaining for himself, it appears to be pissing off an awful lot of fans. If you're Prince, and you've got fans to spare, perhaps that's fine. But it's hardly a model worth emulating.

But there's a bigger point here as well. If you're trying to use a CwF+RtB-style business model, you have to actually connect with fans in some manner. You can't just leave them high and dry. Is that difficult? Sure. Does it take work? Absolutely. But isn't that part of the point? The value that's built up from genuine connections is what makes these business models work. Taking people's money and then leaving them feeling empty handed may be the way the recording industry used to work, but it's not the path forward.

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  1. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 3 Apr 2010 @ 12:12pm

    Creating wary fans

    Although we know not every musician is like Prince, fans who have been burned by this particular subscription program or who have heard about are likely to be very resistant to subscribing to anything similar offered by another artist, at least not without seeing a track record in place and an easy way to cancel the deal if they aren't satisfied.

    When there is so much experimentation in the new world of music, some ideas may falter before they get established because fans' first experiences have been unsatisfactory.

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