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.