Per-Band Subscription Services?

Facing the Music
Tim O'Reilly: Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution

Robert X. Cringely: Curtain Call: Finally, a Business Model for Music in the Internet Age, and Why the Music Industry Probably Won't Go for It

O'Reilly's observations, together with Cringely's suggestions for a scrappy, long-haul new model for musical artists, make me wonder: why aren't individual bands/acts yet offering subscription services to their entire artistic output?

A yearly subscription might be just $30 and include:

  • unlimited access to downloadable back-catalog
  • unlimited access to downloadable new releases
  • online newsletter
  • access to special online events
  • priority access to concert tickets
  • a once-yearly collectible trinket confirming membership
  • automatic annual rebilling until cancelled
After all, fans identify with artists rather than labels or the nascent aggregation services. Such per-artist subscriptions would give fans the exact guaranteed-quality music they want, plus the warm fuzzy feeling that they're doing the right thing, and in such a way that less money goes to middlemen.

Possible objections:

  • Bands lack the expertise to set up such a system and back-end billing. But a service company could easily offer a turnkey solution. PayPal offers a super-easy system for recurring billing.
  • Serving costs would exceed revenues. But a P2P distribution scheme could allow the service site to merely serve as the fallback source iof rich media tracks -- with 99% of transfers going direct between fan machines
  • Some people will just sign up, grab everything, and not renew. I'm not sure this is even a bad thing. Some of these people would renew each time new material becomes available. Tweaking the renewal pricing and trickling out new releases year-round could discourage such ins-and-outs.
I suppose Prince's NPG music club was (is?) a little like this. Kelli Richards points out that David Bowie, Elton John, and Todd Rundgren all offer paid fan services of various forms. However, I find that each of these artist websites are crippled by atrocious, awkward, loud, flash-drenched user interfaces -- and so I can't tell if any of them actually offer the artist's oeuvre in any practical form.

(My tip to any acts that want to try a individualized subscription service: drop the garish designs, pop-ups, flash, tiny type, and sluggish captioning. Just say in big clear letters, "For $X a year you get access to all my music and additional benefits A, B, C. Click here to sign up. Thanks!")

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