Why Music Is Not A Product & Three Reasons Why That's A Good Thing

from the check-your-assumptions dept

Perhaps the biggest illusion in content-centric industries is the belief that the content itself is the main product. For the end-consumer, music is not a product or a service. End-consumers rarely pay for music. They put down money for copies of music, such as CDs, sheet music or music downloads. They put down money for tickets to live experiences. They put down money for subscriptions to music services. Those are all products, but music itself is not. Arguably, the only way to directly 'pay for music' is through commission or donation.

So what is music, or any other type of content? It's what adds value to the CD in the box. It's what makes 2 covers separated by a stack of paper worth buying from the book shop. It's what brings hundreds of people to one place for a shared experience. But it's not a product.

For people that have effectively programmed their minds to see their content as a product, this might be an uncomfortable revelation. Yet while uncomfortable, it can also be very empowering and here's why:
  • Digital-proof. For a long time the music industry 'got away' with believing that the content is what people buy. However as music went digital, an increasing amount of people were able to separate the content from the product; thus leading to an uncontrollable proliferation of the content through unauthorized networks. Understanding that music ≠ the product fully acknowledges the digital reality, which is the first step to finding viable alternatives for products.
  • Flexibility. Understanding that music is not the same thing as the product which creates the financial reward is a great way to rethink the products that are created surrounding your music. Music is neither a CD nor a download. It can add value to anything. Some people actually create content around physical things to make them more valuable and easier to sell (it's called Significant Objects).
  • Fan-centrism. Separating product and content means you no longer have to sell fans what you want them to buy. You can sell them what they want to buy and let the music add value. By understanding who your most avid fans are, you can provide them with something they'll be happy to spend money on. Example (oversimplification alert): got hipster fans? Sell subscriptions to exclusive content via an iPhone app. Got teenage girl fans? When doing a live show, give them a number to send a text message to for an x amount of money & give them exclusive backstage content from the show when they return home. You can do anything; just understand your audience by being connected with them and realize that it's not the content itself that's being sold.

This way, everybody wins. The fans win, because what they pay for is more relevant to them. The artists win, because not only do you have increased chances to monetize, but you will also create a stronger connection with your fans by giving (or selling) them what they want.

Some great, classic examples of artists & labels that 'get it' are:

In short, the value of the products you sell can be raised dramatically by attaching your content to it. Your content is valuable, but for end-consumers, it's not your product.

Filed Under: music, product


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  1. icon
    DigitalDao (profile), 15 Feb 2012 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re: I guess he actually ment "Commodity"

    People who understand and respect copyrights should be getting Bas's point right away.

    When you buy, for example, a CD, you are not buying a collection of songs. You never own the songs. Whoever holds the copyrights for those songs is the one who owns the songs. So when you by a CD you're not buying songs - you're buying the packaging (the CD). You're willing to buy the packaging because it allows you to listen to songs that you like, but you're buying the package NOT the songs.

    And then the implication of that point...

    Many of you are pointing out that the package really isn't something you value. It's sort of something you put up with to get to the songs. Nobody wants to buy and listen to a blank CD. What you value is the music. Bas is not disagreeing with that.

    What's he's trying to say, I think, is that a package that you pay for that just serves to deliver music is an inferior value to a package that you not only don't pay for, but that is also available on demand with no fuss. That's what competing with free means, and there's no distribution model for selling copies of music (the package) that can compete with that from a customer value standpoint.

    However, you can use music to make other things people WANT to buy more valuable, and you won't have to worry about non-commercial infringement because the package people are buying is something they actually want, with value added by music they want, too. That's how an artist can make money off of their music without having to compete with free.

    I think a lot of you guys are agreeing with his point but balking at the implication.

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