Solving the Digital Music Distribution Dilemma

24 09 2009

itunes_logoThe paid-download world of digital music is a tricky beast to tame.   Artists continue to struggle to generate revenue even though they can easily establish a distribution network via iTunes, eMusic, Amazon,, and so on.   Here lies the problem. Digital distribution is fragmented among only a few big players. Consumers continue to remain loyal to their chosen distribution networks whether it be iTunes or a bitorrent site like Mininova.  When a person hears a new band or song, it is almost instinctual that they Google the name and stumble onto either a MySpace page or an artist website.   Discovery is not the issue.  The issue arises when someone hopes to buy the music, but is forced to search through iTunes, see if the band is available on eMusic, or scour the web for torrent files.   From a user experience perspective, this deters a good amount of the target audience away from seeking out actual copies of the music in exchange for the ability to stream music.   

So what is the solution?  A few companies have been working to develop open API music e-commerce stores which can be easily integrated on any web page.  Imagine visiting an artists website and being able to access an entire discography with the ability to stream and purchase songs, without ever leaving the page. SNOCAP has been at this for a while, creating an easy to integrate open API for an artist’s MySpace page.  The company has been relatively unsuccessful with the idea, mainly because of their exclusive partnership with MySpace. Musicians must realize that MySpace serves mainly as a portal for discovery not commerce. Music fans head to an artists MySpace page to stream tracks and get information rather than buy music. 

Recently, another company, MediaNet Digital, announced it’s own new open API, MN Open.  MN Open hosts a number of web components that can be used by anyone and easily installed onto a website without any coding required. Alan McGlade, CEO of MediaNet, stated: “MediaNet is delivering the next generation of music services. We are changing the paradigm by bringing music to the user rather than forcing them to go to a handful of centralized online destinations to acquire downloads. The MN Open Web Components and API offer for the first time, the ability to engage users in the moment to discover and purchase music, while our customers can keep them on their site longer and maximize revenue.”  The components include: 

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• Media Matcher: Automatically matches MediaNet’s catalog against existing web content
• Media Links: Hyperlinks references to artists, albums and songs within existing content on page
• Relevant Media Search: Integrates into site’s existing search and returns media results alongside regular search results
• Media Explorer: Dynamically displays music-related information with purchasable media
• Media Charts: Charts top selling content to entice music discovery, sampling and purchases
• Media Purchase: Fulfills purchases through an automatically configured and setup component which appears in its dedicated, secure window

What I find very promising about MN Open is its feature functionality and it’s ability to be completely customized, branded, and integrated into any artists page.  Already, a number of music service providers such as MOG have arranged deals with MN Open to become their streaming music service.   The service may help decentralize digital distribution and allow artists e-commerce stores to become fabricated into the basic layout of their web page.  Another cool feature is that even music fans can embed the API on their site.  Imagine a fan blogging about their favorite artist while also helping them sell the music on their own site. While open API’s may not be the revolutionary technology necessary to immediately stimulate revenue from digital music, I believe that it may hold the key to democratizing music e-commerce.   While the web inches its way toward Web 3.0 capabilities, we will begin to see more open API’s integrated into websites.  We are already beginning to see the “life-stream” appear on many web pages via the Twitter open API.  As these technologies continue to proliferate the web, I believe open API commerce platforms may gain substantial traction.  Why would you seek out music on iTunes or a torrent site if you have the ability to get it right then and there on their web page?   

The next challenge is generating demand for your music.  Digital distribution is most definitely not going to create millionaires off of a one-hit-wonder.  Those days are long gone.  What it can do is provide an easy to use access point for fans to seek out and purchase music.  This may only be one hurdle musicians have to face in today’s industry, but as digital sales continue to rise we must question the dominance of iTunes and Amazon as digital distribution outlets.

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What Twitter Learned… from Twitter

21 09 2009

Twitter This past Friday, Sept. 18 2009, St. Louis welcomed a special visit from a former STL native, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter. Webster University welcomed Jack as a part of a speaking series to the discuss the impact of Twitter on communications and his role as a leader in the social media revolution. Jack gave a very candid speech discussing the genesis of Twitter and his goal to bring imediacey, transparencey and approachability to all technology systems. One interesting point Jack discussed, was that while he may have developed the communication platform, the use and the now implications of Twitter all came from the Twitter user base. He stated “A lot of what you see today on Twitter, comes from the users.” He then went on to explain that the ways in which people communicate on Twitter such as the @reply, re-tweeting behavior, and even the word “tweet” itself are all user generated. He stated that in many instances Twitter, as a company, was very reluctant to adopt some of these uses, but over time they have had to become very good at listening and editing. As Twitter continues its domination as an all-star social media platform, these points raise some very important marketing implications about the social web.


The popularity and widespread use of Twitter can in many ways be attributed to an embracing strategy that Twitter has adopted since its inception. Providing users with the technology, allowed individuals to figure out how to utilize the communication platform in their own ways, making it an incredibly personal experience. Listening to this burgeoning online community, allowed Jack and other members of the Twitter team to actually embrace these behaviors and build them into the technology. While marketers continue to utilize social media, one major strategy component continues to be stimulating user generated content and adopting customer ideas. Both Starbuck’s and are prime examples of companies using this strategy. Twitter is no exception and is another great example of how embracing the online user community and adopting their ideas can lead to an incredibly successful platform or product. In most cases the online community will provide ample insight into their likes and dislikes. It is now the marketers responsibility to listen to these customers, adopt tangible ideas, and let users know that they are contributing to something greater than themselves. As the web continues to become more social, companies and brands must also become more social. This means listening and talking with customers to find out what they actually need and want as opposed to telling them what they need/want. Embracing customer relationships has become a clear fundamental principle of social media marketing and Twitter is just another excellent example of giving the audience control and running with it. 

See the whole speech here:

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The Importance of Listening

18 09 2009

Listen UpMajor brands and corporations are beginning to find the value in social media marketing, yet many still do not know how to begin the process. It is easy to set up a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, Flickr photo stream etc. but what exactly does this accomplish and why choose these social media sites? The main-stream buzz around social media has created almost a clarion call amongst executives to undertake social media initiatives. What many do not realize is that social media marketing must be executed with a clear strategy consisting of strong metrics, objectives, and goals. The “ease-of-use” of these technologies has really created a tremendous problem within the marketing world, in which marketers are throwing out traditional long-term planning and strategy development to jump head first into so-called “social media marketing.” One of the most critical components of social media marketing is determining how to effectively engage the target audience before even attempting to do so. This can be accomplished by listening to the conversations that are already occurring online even before building that Facebook fan page or Twitter account, a step that many marketers forgo. As marketers it is essential that we understand this critical step in social media marketing.


Today, more than ever, people research products and services online before making a purchase. Social media marketing utilizes a pull strategy allowing customers to reach out to products, services, and brands, relevant to their own experiences, via the web and social media sources. Therefore, it is important organizations know how to engage their audience to provide some sort of value, in a relevant manner. Through the process of listening, organizations can find where/why the audience looks for products and services, and determine how to effectively reach them.


Listening to the online audience essentially serves as a virtual focus group. Conversation occurs across a wide array of social web components such as ratings/review sites, blogs, multimedia sites, wikis, and social networks. Listening reveals insight into satisfaction, brand association, brand loyalty, product ideas, product improvements, demographics, competitor activities, market opportunities etc. Once organizations have gained a deep understanding of the online audience, strategic objectives and relevant success metrics can be defined to develop a measurable social media or marketing strategy.


Social media marketing allows organizations to establish meaningful and impactful connections with their target audience that may lead to valuable long-term relationships. Social media marketing works similar to offline conversations and business networking. A dialogue is established in which both parties exchange thoughts and ideas. The exchange allows individuals to find relevant connections, which may then lead to a valuable relationship. It is necessary for companies to begin the process with social media monitoring, to first listen to conversations already occurring online. Listening and analyzing to the on-going social communication produces valuable insights that are then used to effectively engage the target audience. 

What are your thoughts on the importance of listening in social media marketing?

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Monetizing the Music: The Future of Physical

11 09 2009

I can’t get enough of music!  Whether it be downloading, sharing, streaming, uploading,  re-mixing etc. etc. I find myself in a whirlwind of mass music consumption.  My music library has grown out of proportion to what I couldn’t possibly listen to in a month, a year, 2 years?  As a digital native, a member of Gen Y, and stereotypical music junkie, I can’t get enough of digital content, but of course I want it all for free.  This behavioral pattern seems to be commonplace amongst people my age, always seeking out the next Pirate Bay, or having music swapping parties, anything to satiate our appetites for a cool new band or an awesome song.  Music really is bigger than it ever has been in the past, but our consumption pattern seems to surpass even beyond what our wallet can handle.  If digital music did not exist, the music industry would be suffering just as much as it is today, due to the US economic recession and really, the sheer lack of disposable income by arguably music’s biggest market:  Gen Y.

Vintage Vinyl St. Louis, MO

Vintage Vinyl St. Louis, MO

While thinking about my peers and my consumption patterns I’ve come to realize that a sheer lack of buying power, and lets not forget the ease of access, has in part led to the adoption of downloading bittorent’s, file swapping, P2P networks etc.   If I had even tried to satisfy my want for music 10 years ago, I would have broken the bank instantly with CD’s at cost of around $15 a pop. Now, lets fast-forward 10-15 years from now when Gen Y, music’s biggest consumer ever, retains some disposable income and a tremendous amount of buying power.   We all know that as we grow older we tend to appreciate nicer things, cherish the past, and re-kindle those memories of the summer ’09 through our favorite band that year.   This is where I see a huge opportunity for the return of a physical music product.  Already we can see a resurgence of vinyl that reminds us that people still value a physical product, but it has to have some sort of intrinsic value whether that be nostalgic or just wanting to build a collection.  I already find myself wanting to buy deeper into an artist’s so-called “product line” looking for something tangible that I can take home.  I believe that over the next decade we will see the physical music product decline and then re-emerge in a cyclical fashion.  The CD will always have a soft spot in my heart, due to the hundreds I already own and the  cherished memories of ripping off  a freshly shrink-wrapped disc to discover something beyond this world. Of course, the physical product will have to be a little bit more than a jewel case and an album liner, but the possibilities of creating some exclusive tangible music products may lead to a profitable return of the physical music product.  

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Online Info Privacy vs. Transparency

9 09 2009

Lock DownAs social media continues to embed itself in our everyday lifestyles, the question of privacy burns in the mind of all users of the social web.  What information can people see?  How much do I want people to know about me?  Is my boss going to see my Facebook profile? The issue is a hot topic and one that legislation and government can’t seem to ignore.   A few days ago I came across an article in Adweek: Pressure Mounts on Web Tracking.  The article discusses a proposal for new legislation to alter commonplace internet advertising on the web.  The proposal looks to essentially eradicate, or at least hinder behavior-based advertising by limiting the amount of time advertisers can access behavioral data (24 hrs.) and relying on consent of information by consumers for long term use of data. 

While I believe that the privacy of information is a very important issue and I agree that out-right exploitation by consumers is obviously wrong, I do not agree that the social web should be censored or limited by government regulation.  What these consumer advocacy groups who made the proposal seem to misunderstand is that by creating an open social web, we can actually limit the amount of advertising white-noise that we come across today.  I’m talking about complete personalization. Using information put forth by users online, willingly, to make web content relevant, including the advertising of products or services.  Finally, the social web may one day enable us to stop searching, and allow products and services to find us.  I think this will in fact decrease consumer exploitation.  After all, advertising online is extremely voluntary (click/or don’t click).

Through the use of behavioral data, consumers can receive highly targeted and personalized messages that will allow them to evaluate options and make better choices based upon these offerings.   Think about small local businesses.  The internet has democratized commerce allowing a number of small local businesses to offer services that compete with major corporations, but succeed due to a better value offering and basic awareness generated via the web.   If we begin to limit contextual and semantic data, which can provide some important demographic and psychographic info, we are stepping back ten years when display ads on the internet become the annoying pop-up that is immediately ignored. 

In a time when transparency is demanded by so many consumers for businesses and corporations, I do not see why the same for consumers should not be true to an extent.  The web is a social forum.  If individuals do not understand this, then they should not put their information out there. No one is to blame for a lack of privacy on the web other than yourself.  No one forces you to put your age, gender, location, favorite sports team etc. etc. online.   As consumers, we must first learn the true implications of contextual data before we condemn it as the next form of identity theft.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue as it continues to unfold.

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