How Much for That Song? It’s Up to You

Devin Brewer, a folkish singer-songwriter from Seattle, has co-founded a music-downloading site called SongSlide that lets musicians post their music for sale and lets buyers pay what they wish for the songs, with a $.59 minimum. The higher the amount, the larger a percentage goes to the musician. Brewer wrote to say that his site was inspired in part by the work of Paul Feldman, a.k.a. the Bagel Guy from Freakonomics.

“We launched the site on January 9,” writes Brewer, “and to date the average price paid for a single song is $2.08 (even though the minimum price is $0.59).”

It should be said, however, that the site’s volume is very low, suggesting that it’s mostly friends and family who are so far doing the buying.

Also, while this system might work well for indie musicians, I don’t know if a major label would dare try it. If you offer an honor system for songs by Kelly Clarkson or Shakira or Tim McGraw, wouldn’t free riders overwhelm the system? I think the appeal of SongSlide is that you’re supporting people who seem to need your support; Clarkson, Shakira, and McGraw surrendered that perception long ago.

But perhaps the big labels should try an honor-system scheme, just as an experiment if nothing else. Perhaps there are certain configurations that would work well — allowing only three downloads per user at below-market price before locking you out, e.g., or perhaps rewarding the higher-paying customers with bonus material.

Either way, it will be interesting to see if SongSlide’s volume increases and how its payment amounts hold up. Soon after I blogged about the singer Jane Siberry’s pay-as-you-wish website, she complained that the rush of newcomers was upsetting the delicate balance between artist and fans.


ddelruss

Harvard Business Review had an article in the HBR Podcast a couple months ago discussing how companies should experiment with ideas even if they *expect* them to fail if the costs are low and potential reward great. I forget the exact term, but it was something about "failing on purpose" in order to test potential innovations.

I know that I would certainly be willing to pay more if they specified exactly what the excess payment would go towards (not necessarily just artists).

With April 15th around the corner, you might consider how that might affect tax payments. "Your taxes are $3000 this year, but if you want to support Global Warming research, contribute $_____ here...for Adult Stem Cell research $_____ here".

Damien

puneetvohra

http://chefmoz.org/Australia/WA/Perth/Annalakshmi_Restaurant985417999.html

w.alex

There is actually a new indie music web site called Amie Street that uses an interesting variable pricing strategy based on number of downloads. Check it out...

http://amiestreet.com/welcome

NoneMoreBlack

Not sure if you've seen this, but here's an article this reminded me of, on a cafe in Seattle founded by an ex-Google engineer where you pay whatever you want for food and coffee:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2003558690_terrabite06e.html

rafe

It seems to me that the concept of letting the user decide what it's worth to his or herself is destined to flourish in more and more commerce situations. It already is the de facto mode for that other valuable commodity, user attention. Pay-per-click and pay-per-conversion advertising are models built on monetizing the user's free choice of which products and services are higher or lower value to them personally. It's only a small stretch to think that consumers will eventually realize that their attention is just as valuable (and ultimately more so) than their money. From there it follows that pricepoint will be a free market variable, and not supply-side fiat as it is now.

egretman

Maybe women as featured in your previous post could employ this economic model. How much will Texas give me to save my baby?

Oh my god, this might work. I wonder if any woman has tried to get churches to give her money to stop her from aborting. She might very well get a $100,000. In fact, how could a church put a value on it? They would have to give millions if need be.

And it's not buying babies, which is illegal. The mother would keep and raise the baby.

Excuse me while I patent this idea.

kah

"It's only a small stretch to think that consumers will eventually realize that their attention is just as valuable (and ultimately more so) than their money."

That's true. Similarly, we are now in the golden age of the blog. Wonder how long it will take before most people get tired of volunteering our treasure-trove of info free to charming on-line leeches such as journalists and economists. I am practically there myself.

egretman

Wonder how long it will take before most people get tired of volunteering our treasure-trove of info free to charming on-line leeches such as journalists and economists.

This is already happening. People paid to post and keep the comments going. Trying to make an interesting blog. Driving site views up, hopefully.

Such people are called Blog Fluffers.

jkmuller

You should really check out Magnatune.com, a company that is doing something similar on a much larger scale. They have all of their music available for free via high-quality streaming downloads and you can buy the albums on a sliding scale from $5 to $18. Their classical stuff is especially good, but they have many other genres.

alex r

"Pay what you wish", with a minimum of $0.59, isn't really pay-what-you-wish, of course. It's more like "I'm going to charge a low price, but please consider leaving a tip." If the tips are generous, of course, tip revenue may exceed non-tip revenue.

But, despite the way its framed and the fact that it's on the internet, I don't see how this is all that different from leaving a tip in the guitar case at your corner bar...

Razela

I think it works only for the small indie bands. With these little bands, a person is more likely to choose to pay more, knowing that the band is probably not making much revenue and would appreciate it. Plus, it makes your contribution stand out in terms of the whole. For large bands that are already perceived as making a lot of money, I think most people would give the bare minimum.

nathanr

Was not the trigger for the extra money with the Coffee shop example the public eye? There is not public eye online watching to see what you pay, thus, no embarassment or scrutiny.

RandyfromCanada

how can everyone be for these honor systems ? pay what u want

all crap just tell me the cost if l want l will pay if l don't l won;t

not much honor in being Canadian but still more than being American

Ken D.

Several commenters are correct that this is a hybrid model -- mandatory charge plus request for voluntary additional payment, tips if you like. I don't see this as particularly novel. I would compare it to U.S. public radio and television, which are free, while selling semi-advertising sponsorships and also soliciting donations. Many independent news-related websites use essentially the same model. Even as established and successful an advertising-supported site as TPM is conducting a fund drive to finance an expansion. Bring on the experiments.

PandemicSoul

Now if there was just a new site that would help us find which of these indie artists we would actually like based on our past listening habits...

Randolph Savitsky

Why is it that your content jogs my memory of some other matching a bed that I just read somewhere else?

ddelruss

Harvard Business Review had an article in the HBR Podcast a couple months ago discussing how companies should experiment with ideas even if they *expect* them to fail if the costs are low and potential reward great. I forget the exact term, but it was something about "failing on purpose" in order to test potential innovations.

I know that I would certainly be willing to pay more if they specified exactly what the excess payment would go towards (not necessarily just artists).

With April 15th around the corner, you might consider how that might affect tax payments. "Your taxes are $3000 this year, but if you want to support Global Warming research, contribute $_____ here...for Adult Stem Cell research $_____ here".

Damien

puneetvohra

http://chefmoz.org/Australia/WA/Perth/Annalakshmi_Restaurant985417999.html

w.alex

There is actually a new indie music web site called Amie Street that uses an interesting variable pricing strategy based on number of downloads. Check it out...

http://amiestreet.com/welcome

NoneMoreBlack

Not sure if you've seen this, but here's an article this reminded me of, on a cafe in Seattle founded by an ex-Google engineer where you pay whatever you want for food and coffee:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2003558690_terrabite06e.html