Hail to the Thieves!

Posted by Hanson Hosein:

In class last year, we were all a-tizzy with Radiohead’s revolutionary new strategy that allowed their fans to download their new album for whatever price they liked (including “free”).  We discussed the idea that perhaps this was the music industry’s new “loss leader” — i.e. music, that would be subsidized by concert/swag revenues, and undying fanboy love.  This also speaks to Long Tail guru Chris Anderson’s new theory on “Free” being the future of business.

I will sheepishly admit to testing the theory by downloading “In Rainbows” with the intention of buying the higher-resolution files when the CD came out.  I never did (I’m still stuck on “Ok Computer” being the best album of the 90’s, “In Rainbows” didn’t grab me as viscerally).

But I’m such a huge fan of veteran UK group Marillion, that last winter, I actually forked over $60 in advance for the deluxe version of their album “Happiness is the Road”, which doesn’t come out until the end of next month!  Marillion came up with this wonderful approach years ago: having fans finance their music rather than being tied to a dinosaur record company.  Now they’ve rewarded that loyalty by e-mailing me last night.  Not only could I download the MP3’s of the entire album for free now, but they would also permit it being legally file-shared!  Here’s what the band said:

By joining forces with a company called Music Glue we have decided to update the old “beat the bootleggers” approach and leak the album ourselves – but with a twist. Music Glue are able to add a little gizmo to the music files that allows us to ‘talk’ to the people that are downloading it through file-sharing networks. If existing fans are downloading our music for free, or new fans are discovering our music through file-sharing, at least we will be able to point them in the right direction if they want to buy THE REAL THING from us.

This is a wonderfully refreshing approach, and it proves that it’s not just for mega-musicians like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails that can afford to give away their creative work for free.  Marillion have embraced a major negative as an opportunity:

…Mark Meharry, founder of Music Glue, which is working with Marillion to put their album on peer-to-peer sites, said: “Fans that acquire music via peer-to-peer networks have been treated as thieves by the global recording industry.

“From a commercial point of view, peer-to-peer provides access to more fans, on a global scale, than ever thought possible via traditional distribution methods.”

As a non-contracted artist, Marillion have amazing freedom to do with their music what they will.  A few years ago, I e-mailed them directly to see how much it would cost me to use one of their tracks for my documentary, “Independent America.” Not only did their business manager respond immediately to my query, she gave me permission to use “Don’t Hurt Yourself” for free.  Presently, they’re running a make-a-video-for-us contest with a $10,000 cash prize.  Such is the growing power of the user/producer as traditional media continues to lose its death grip over content.  Such are the amazing possibilities for new business models with digital media and communication.

p.s. One listen in, and I will declare “Happiness is the Road” to be excellent.

adminHail to the Thieves!
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