The Niche of Mass

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by: C. Sven Johnson

Joel Greenberg has a blog entry (Link) worth reading regarding Suzanne Vega’s upcoming concert inside Second Life. Some of what he’s getting at has come up here before (reLink). And of course scarcity is something I’m often thinking about, given my particular interests.

What I thought an interesting coincidence, however, was that last night I learned (admittedly rather late) that alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins had played the scarcity card at least once.

During the end of the original band’s run, the Smashing Pumpkins released Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music.

On vinyl.


And just 25 copies.

Recipients of those copies were instructed to redistribute the music.

For free.

Now that wasn’t a marketing effort. Quite the opposite. Yet when one of the albums was reportedly put up for auction on eBay, even though the music can be legally downloaded for free as high-quality mp3 files, it reached US$10,000 before it was pulled and other arrangements made.

Whatever went on with that auction behind the scenes, we’re at least reminded of one thing: in today’s modern world, perceived value often trumps intrinsic value.

Consequently, in an increasingly niche, non-conformist environment, mass marketing not only yields fewer returns, but perceived value for one-size-fits-all product available in bulk decreases.

Now that’s not a problem for musicians and other creative types, who probably don’t concern themselves too much with moving Volume. It is, however, a problem for those who make a living redistributing what those people create.

Suzanne Vega isn’t just marketing herself and her label. She’s engaging an audience.

She’s getting their Attention and developing a Reputation.

She’s effectively building, one – sometimes “virtual” – show at a time, a peer-to-peer network between herself and her listeners.

But most importantly, she’s cutting out the middleman.

If I were in marketing and unwilling to adapt to the changing circumstances that are occurring all around us, well-represented by what people like Suzanne Vega are doing, I’d be in denial too. Not that there isn’t a place for mass product, but as mentioned elsewhere, it’s going niche too.

{Quick update: Check out C|Net’s post which is relevant to this topic (Link).}

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