Proliferation of Music Products

futurelab default header

by: David Jennings

When Robbie Williams' last album was released three years ago there were 10 bits of content: the album package itself, a few singles, and associated videos and ringtones. When his new album was released on Monday, there were 164 bits of content. These include material for DualDisc, individual tracks for music download stores, and a whole set of different ringtones, 'wallpaper' and special bundles of content, some of which is exclusive to individual mobile carriers like T-mobile and Sony Ericsson.

These are the figures given by Williams' manager, Tim Clark of IE Music, speaking at a MusicAlly debate yesterday evening. They give a sense of how the music industry is embracing the ethos of lifestyle gadgetry in providing the maximum number of diverse, tailored products for different platforms.

Thomas Gewecke, Senior Vice President of Global Digital Somethingorother at Sony BMG, echoed the same point by saying that their digital strategy aims for the largest possible catalogue to be available at the highest quality, with the greatest breadth and depth of digital partners. As well as an increasing number of products, he said, these products have greater complexity.

In the midst of this proliferation, the original music recording is no longer the central focus of attention that it once was. Some of the secondary products that carry its DNA are ephemeral fluff, fit only to make a fast buck from gullible people (I know this sounds snobbish). Some of them may have more longstanding value as archive and documentary material, as record labels finally start to get more savvy about developing the collateral material that supports tomorrow's catalogue sales. (See my recent entry about documentaries produced by record labels.)

I wonder, too, how the profusion affects the bragging economy of fans. It used to be possible to be a true 'completist' fan. Your ranking in the social strata of fans was measured by your dedication in getting hold of every release by an artist, including imports and promos. No-one's going to collect all 164 bits of new Robbie Williams content. And even if they did, some of the formats will have joined the serried ranks of dead media by next spring.

The debate was on the question "Does digital devalue music?". Tim Clark said it didn't, partly on the basis of the extra market opportunities offered by the multiple digital products. Adam Singer, Chief Executive of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, was less sanguine, pointing out that if you increase supply, you decrease value. Hence you can charge less for digital tracks when there are so many so widely available, but at the same time you can charge very high prices for rare live performances.

Generally there was a consensus among many of the speakers that phones will be the dominant device for listening to digital music — which surprised me — and that subscription services would eventually dominate à-la-carte — which didn't. Opinions differed on when 'eventually' would be, however.

I won't cover the whole debate: there are more notes from it on the MusicBites blog.

Original Post: