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Forego the Singles Market to Win Back CD Buyers?
By Gerd Leonhard
(more articles from this author)
2003-07-24
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Not too long ago, the single was an essential instrument in getting people's attention for new artists or for promoting new releases; a low-cost way of testing the waters, of gaining exposure, and of discovering new music. In the past 10 years, singles never made substantial amounts of profits, rather, they were simply used to create demand, and stimulate the sales of CDs (or LPs, in the old days).

What happened to this idea? What if we were to revive it, today? Could this be a way to really compete with file-sharing? Are we better off to forego the small profits from selling singles, and use the format to win the music-buying public back? Turn those file-sharing criminals into CD-buying fans?

Here are some ideas I want to present for discussion:

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1) Offer single-track (or dual track) CD singles at retail locations, for $ 1 / 1 Euro / 1 GBP, which I reckon should be just about enough to cover the actual, out-of- pocket expenses. Forget about margins and profits; just make it enough to cover everyone's actual costs. If it can be done for less, do it for less! Not everyone is inclined to download MP3s, yet (and not everyone likes the lower-quality sound of compressed audio, either), so the physical media option is still a crucial asset, and it would get people to the stores.

2) Offer remixes and re-releases of some select artists in your catalogs, as well, not just the new releases. Select parts of your catalog that may have the potential for a 'revival', and churn out dozens of dual-track CDs at a 'next-to-nothing' price. Shoot for the 35+ age group, in particular. Think NICHE, think Music Enthusiasts. Be aggressive and let them have it!

3) Offer some singles bundled with other products, for free, such as at gas stations (free single when you fill-up), eateries (Mc Donald's et al), book stores, clothing stores and convenience stores. Get your music out there, aggressively, and you'll see full-length CD sales come around because your music will get exposure, and the discovery process always leads to sales.

4) Make the very same singles available for free downloading, in unrestricted, zero-DRM MP3 formats, all over the Internet. Just ask for an e-mail address (with verification) in return, and include 'tell your friends' options, on the sites. Link the free singles download area with various 'Buy the CD' promotions.

5) Set up a new singles chart that tracks sales and downloads, equally, and start diving into collaborative filtering and recommendation software, and beef up your CRM (Customer Relationship Management).

I am dead certain that, if immediate profits, corporate policy concerns and the prevailing general adversity to change can be set aside at least for a trial period, this campaign would be hugely popular and would rekindle serious interest in buying music, once again. And Kazaa et al would pale, in comparison!

Think: exposure leads to discovery, which inevitably leads to income. And act.


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