Don’t buy pig in a poke!

Pig in a PokeWhen my boss gets angry he often says “Stop giving me excuses, give me solutions!”. I was about to write another post about piracy in music, but I decided to give it an unexpected form. I’d like to share with you my idea of an Internet service that I have came up with recently. I think that this service (let’s call it tentatively: SoundByte) could turn some pirates on the righteous path.

I. Motivation

The whole idea is based solely on my experience, so here’s how I ‘consume’ my hobby in a nutshell:

  1. Research: I read. A lot. News, articles, reviews, interviews, tweets, e-mails, you name it. I’m staying updated.
  2. Check out: When some interesting album appears on my radar, I listen to it a couple of times to find out if I like it. It usually takes 3 to 5 listens to be sure.
  3. Buy: Once I realize that I like it and I want to keep listening to it for pleasure, I order a CD. If it’s not available, I go with digital download.

There is only one little problem with this schema. It’s the middle point which implies that I have to get access to the full release before making my decision about the purchase. Obviously most right owners don’t want that to happen. But you know what? I think that’s not fair. I think that I should have the right to know what I’m buying before I spent my hard-earned money. It’s not middle ages, I don’t want to buy pig in a poke.

So today the industry is trying to force customers to skip point 2, and jump directly from 1 to 3. Consumers, on the other hand, usually do 1 and 2 and stop at that – once they gain access to the full content (legally or not), they feel no need to pay for or buy anything.

Both are very bad tendencies and SoundByte is my idea how to fix this.

II. Solution

A service that seemingly combines points 2 and 3 of previous chapter. Service that enables users to check out whatever they want for no or very little money and helps them become owners of music that they really like. Here’s the SoundByte’s principle:

  1. User can listen to every release in the database at least one time for free.
  2. Every successive listen costs a fraction of the album’s price. The price of first non-free listen is 1/255 of it’s final price. Price doubles with every listen. This implies that after eight non-free listen, user will have paid the whole price.
    For example, if an album costs 15$, first non-free listen will cost merely 0,06$, second only 0,12$ and so on. Last non-free listen will make for half of the album’s price.
  3. When user makes eight non-free listen he becomes owner of this release. From now on he can listen to it for free. Moreover, if it’s a digital download, he will be able to download it, burn into CD etc. If it’s a physical release, it will be sent to him.

III. Conclusion

Described above is the service that I would love to use myself. I know I’m not a typical user but I’m quite sure that many, many people would appreciate it as well. First of all, anyone who follows similar path as described in section I will be able to realize the ‘Check out’ phase without turning to piracy.

The service, by design, is very simple and encourages users to discover new music, which has tremendous importance for the whole industry (I assume that fancy recommendation system will be employed to help users explore new artists). Pricing is very user-friendly and follows user’s engagement: first listen is free, so you can check whatever you want. If you got interested in an album, you can give it next try for only few cents, so why not? As your engagement gets bigger, so is your willingness to pay more with every listen. Ultimately, you only pay as much as the album’s market price so not a single cent is wasted – it stays with you in form of the ownership of the release. For albums you eventually don’t like – you pay only a fraction of their price or nothing at all (if you happen to make your mind quickly). At every stage you know what you are paying for – no more pig in the poke!

I really think that, from the user’s standpoint, it is a very convenient system – he can listen to whatever he wants not worrying about his expenses going too high. He can sit back, enjoy and watch his music collection grow. Fair and square.

IV. Comments

I do realize that this won’t solve all the problems. First and foremost it probably won’t make notorious pirates (people that don’t buy music at all) change their ways, but it will surely encourage them to do so. This is a definitely a good way to make life easier for the people who care about music and don’t want to buy blind. In many cases it will make them buy releases that they wouldn’t normally buy due to their inability to try them out.

SoundByte is not a direct competition to Spotify. In fact it represents a totally different approach. In Spotify Premium you pay four subscription monthly but never become owner of anything. You pay for ability to listen, but once you stop paying you are left with nothing. It’s more like a radio than music store. In case of Spotify Free it’s even worse, because you simply cannot fully enjoy music with all those commercial breaks. Don’t get me wrong, I like Spotify and I frequently use it to check out new stuff, but for me, It won’t ever replace my CD collection.

V. Final note

I’m no businessman and I don’t know if anything I have written so far is rationale. I think it is, and I even think this might be a good idea for a startup. Correct me if I’m wrong or encourage me if I’m right. Either way, leave a comment, I’ll appreciate every one.

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2 Responses to Don’t buy pig in a poke!

  1. Emmanuel says:

    Well, you might not reach the optimum profit, but who cares if this is rational ? I think your idea is worth looking at it.
    When trying to discover new music, illegal downloading is useful for the reasons you exposed but I think that most pirates buy more music legally (digital downloads or CDs) than people that don’t illegally download music.
    I’m not usually interested in sites such as Spotify (or other kinds of streaming sites with premium accounts whatever) but if someone proposed an offer similar to yours, i probably would have an eye on it.

    • stommager says:

      Hi Emmanuel!
      Thank you for your comment, I’m glad to hear that you liked the idea of SoundByte. I totally agree with you about the fact that pirates buy audiovisual content more frequently than non-pirates.
      I’d say that If someone is not interested in music, he is satisfied with that mass-media has to offer (TV, radio). When someone’s engagement increases, he starts to search for the content that suits he’s developing taste. Usually, first thing he does is piracy because that’s the easiest way to satisfy one’s growing need. As his conciousness gets even greater, he discovers the need to give something back to his benefactors.
      My intention is not to convert the ignorants type into non-ignorants, but rather to make it easier for the ones that care to connect to this ecosystem.
      I think that a lot of people would like to buy an original album, but typically it’s either ‘I don’t know it’ or ‘I like it, but I already have a pirated version’. The solution is something that will allow a smooth transition from person that doesn’t know to the person that buys.

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