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.