Posts Tagged ‘npr’

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What will music fans pay for?

October 9, 2009

portrait-debcha

This piece was crossposted to Music Think Tank.

Earlier this week, I talked about how NPR and webcomics have a business model that’s predicated on the primary work (the radio broadcast and the webcomics themselves, respectively) being available for free; once the overhead is covered, the incremental cost of additional readers or listeners is approximately zero. I pointed out that music has historically been very different: the business model for music is based on people paying for the music itself. But now that music can be transmitted digitally it also has, not coincidentally, an incremental cost of zero. And unlike NPR, you don’t need a radio transmitter to share it with your friends.

I know that there is ideology on both sides: people who feel that all music should be free, and people who feel that downloading any music you didn’t pay for is theft. But how you feel about the issue doesn’t change the facts: listeners have the option of not paying for music. And, as Cory Doctorow has pointed out, it’s never going to get harder to move bits around than it is right now. So it might be time to think about a business model that reflects this.

I’m not a musician. I’m a fan. And from my perspective, it’s clear that fans do want to support artists that they like. Taking a page from NPR’s book, here’s a list of things that fans will pay for, even if they can get your music for free:

The music. First and foremost, many people will (and do) pay for digital music, even if they don’t have to. This might be because it’s easier to use iTunes than BitTorrent. Or it might be because they want to support the artist. Or both.

CDs and merch. Atoms, not bits. Do you pledge money to NPR to support the programming, or for the This American Life DVD? I’ve bought merchandise even when there was no rational reason for me to, simply because it was a way to support an artist I love. I buy CDs at concerts, because I know the money goes directly to the artists (and because I can listen to them in my car).

Relationships. Anything signed or limited-edition is not just about the article itself—it’s about expressing a relationship with the artist. And relationships aren’t fungible. Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer are two excellent artists who have close relationships with their fans, who in turn support them.

An experience. The canonical example of this is, of course, the concert – whether it’s $5 to see your favorite local band or hundreds of dollars for an arena show. But this also includes things like doing ‘shrooms in a Lamborghini with your favorite drummer.

Something unique. The illustration at the top of this post is a commissioned portrait (“Portrait of the Blogger, with Johnny Toaster,” by rstevens). Definitely worth paying for.

A narrative. What’s a story worth? Apparently, quite a bit. The Significant Objects art project posts thrift-store finds for auction on eBay, along with the back stories. But the back stories are fictional, and are described as such. Nevertheless,  the items go for substantially more than their market value.

What are you willing to pay for? What have you offered to your fans? Other thoughts?

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Music, webcomics, NPR, and money

October 5, 2009

box of money[click for full Diesel Sweeties strip]

The topic of creators and money seems to be in the air at the moment. Last week, Amanda Palmer wrote a blog post, “Why I am not afraid to take your money,” which is burning up the Twitterverse and the blogosphere, and a recent PBS MediaShift article discussed financially self-sustaining webcomics.

In the webcomics article, Richard Stevens, the creator of Diesel Sweeties, describes how he makes a living off his work by selling merch, like t-shirts. His site gets about 30,000 hits a day; he reports that he only needs one or two percent of these readers to buy something to make the whole thing self-financing. While he provides something to everyone for free (the comics), he also provides the opportunity to support the comics by buying something.

It dawned on me why this sounded familiar when I turned on my radio to discover that WBUR is in the middle of a pledge drive: it’s exactly the model that NPR has been using for decades. It’s the nature of digital distribution that, above a certain threshold, works have an incremental cost of zero: once something has been created, the cost of instantiating and distributing the creation is pretty much negligible. NPR is one of the few cases where this was true in the pre-digital age: once they’ve paid for their news bureaux, staff, and transmission, it doesn’t matter if ten (or a hundred, or a thousand) extra people tune in—it won’t cost them anything extra. And even though only a tiny fraction of their listenership donate, it’s enough to make up 30% or so of their operating budget. NPR puts more emphasis on your money supporting the programming and less on the Car Talk CD you get, while Stevens puts more emphasis on you getting the cute red robot and less on supporting the comic, but the net result is the same: the fraction of the people who pay for physical items can support the whole digital (or radio) endeavour.

NPR and webcomics are native to the world of zero incremental cost, and have a financial model that reflects this. The music industry, on the other hand, does not. They were in the business of recouping their costs with every CD sold, and now they are trying to recoup costs with every track downloaded. But that’s clearly not working anymore. More on this to come.

PART 2: What will music fans pay for?

MP3: The Flying Lizards – Money (extended mix) [buy]

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The Decemberists want you to design a poster

February 25, 2009

hazardsofloveart

The Decemberists are headlining NPR’s opening night showcase at SXSW, where they’ll be playing the entirety of their new album The Hazards of Love, scheduled for release on the 24th. Their label, Capitol Records, has teamed up with Imeem to sponsor a contest to design a poster for the show. You can find full details here.

If you’re going to be in Austin, their show is at Stubb’s on Wednesday, March 18th. Even if you’re not in Texas, you can still get in on the act; NPR will be streaming them live at their SXSW site.

MP3: The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song [pre-order]

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Freezepop on NPR, and weekend posts

January 16, 2009

freezepop

Over the course of last weekend, Justin at Anti-Gravity Bunny complained about music blogs not posting on weekends, and my friend Matt at Sub Ubi teasingly gloated that he  scooped me about z=z fave Freezepop being on NPR (and Matt alludes to why).

If you’re actually interested in my non-z=z activities and why I don’t post on weekends, you can always follow me on Twitter or try my Flickr photostream.

MP3: Freezepop – Pop Music is Not a Crime (buy)

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Good music for bad decisions

October 4, 2008

NPR has a lovely little music feature on music to have an office romance by – a five-song soundtrack for what is “sometimes, under a select set of circumstances,…not even a horrible, career-demolishingly tragic mistake.” Even (maybe especially) if you aren’t contemplating or embroiled in a torrid relationship with a co-worker, the set is great, including Belle and Sebastian‘s “Step Into My Office, Baby” and the Damnwell‘s “Kiss Catastrophe.”

Link: Songs for Ill-Advised Office Romances

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Threesome: public radio personalities

July 23, 2008

Three fantasias which have real public radio personalities as the subject. First, Amanda Palmer tells the story of her unrequited crush on Christopher Lydon (pictured above), former host of The Connection on NPR’s Boston affiliate, WBUR. Next, Jonathan Coulton‘s ode to WNYC host Soterios Johnson‘s secret E- and Red Bull-fueled club lifestyle. Finally, Franz Ferdinand fantasize about being interviewed by Terry Wogan, BBC Radio 2’s legendary morning radio show host.

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – Christopher Lydon (more Dresden Dolls)

MP3: Jonathan Coulton – Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance (more Jonathan Coulton)

MP3: Franz Ferdinand – The Dark of the Matinee (more Franz Ferdinand)

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Stars: Live on NPR

March 16, 2008

Stars

Stars, who sing perfect Smiths/Belle and Sebastian-style pop songs, performed a live set on NPR‘s Studio 360. The show aired yesterday, and the segment is available for streaming or download. They also did a live bonus version of “Personal”, which is archived below.

Stars on Studio 360

MP3: Stars on Studio 360 (interview + live set)

MP3: Stars – Personal (live on NPR)

Image: Stars/Phoenix Concert Theatre/November 28, 2007 by Flickr user * Janice, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.