Prince heads the revolution

Since 1978, Prince has released more than 30 albums. Most were as "Prince", some with The Revolution or the New Power Generation and some as "The Artist". Not all of these albums were major releases or are still in print.

However, it's his new album that will probably be the most notable in music industry history. Why? Because, he will be the first major artist to both distribute his latest album via a newspaper and do so free to the consumer.

It has drawn not unexpected outrage/horror from the industry, most notably the record store sector as has been reported here in full by the Guardian.

"It's all about giving music for the masses and he believes in spreading the music he produces to as many people as possible," said Mail on Sunday managing director Stephen Miron. "This is the biggest innovation in newspaper promotions in recent times."

One music store executive described the plan as "madness" while others said it was a huge insult to an industry battling fierce competition from supermarkets and online stores. Prince's label has cut its ties with the album in the UK to try to appease music stores.

The Entertainment Retailers Association said the giveaway "beggars belief". "It would be an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career," ERA co-chairman Paul Quirk told a music conference. "It would be yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music.

"The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday."

High street music giant HMV was similarly scathing about the plans. Speaking before rumours of a giveaway were confirmed, HMV chief executive Simon Fox said: "I think it would be absolutely nuts. I can't believe the music industry would do it to itself. I simply can't believe it would happen; it would be absolute madness."

Wooooooooh, scary threat - we may not stock your albums in our stores if you do this. Perhaps they've not realised that a) there are alternate distribution outlets such as, say, iTunes for Prince, who will stock certainly it b) if I want the Prince album, I'm unlikely to be dissuaded from buying it because HMV don't stock it.

But the HMV CEO raises an interesting point, why is the music industry doing this to itself? After all, Prince's record company, Sony BMG, is one of the big guys, and not a scrappie indie looking to get noticed with a stunt.

Well, lets take a look at Prince. His album will get tons of publicity for this. A new audience may listen to an album that they would have never bought and in the process may be enticed to buy his back catalogue or go to his shows (he's staging an unbelievable 21 shows in the O2 in London - that's over 420,000 seats to fill and every seat will also get a free copy of the album). He's also "sold" the album to a newspaper - they don't get it free, so there's revenue there. As I understand it, these album copies won't count towards the album charts because they haven't been sold (I once discussed this with a big record company based in Hammersmith, as I was curious if the charts could be manipulated by giving tracks away free to get the star the publicity from having a No.1)

Clearly, if every artist did this, the publicity element would be lost because it wouldn't be newsworthy any longer. But is it a sustainable business model? I'm not sure, but today's model isn't working that well, so the industry has to experiment.

Ad funded is a model being tested by We7. Could "pay per as you go" be another model", in which you could perhaps pay the same royalties as on-air radio stations to listen to tracks in full? Before dismissing out of hand, remember the mobile phone companies saw enormous growth from pay-as-you-go, which was a model they never foresaw would be so successful. Likewise, who'd have imagined that people would pay a substantial premium for ring tones of their favourite songs e.g. £3 for a song chorus v 79p for the full track.

Perhaps Prince really is head of the Revolution in both word and deed.

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posted by John Wilson @ 5:07 PM Permanent Link newsvine reddit



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