A few recent events have made me think about changing some things at Magnatune. These events are:
- Walking around the Sxsw trade show and seeing many, many mp3 download sites exhibiting. They all sign up indie musicians and sell DRM-free music, and pay the artists decently. How is Magnatune different? Online Licensing, Listen-to-full-albums-for-free, Creative Commons, Internet Radio Stations & Podcasts are a few ways, but I don't think we do a good enough job differentiating ourselves
- we're getting several dozen free album requests from students, commercial and non-commercial podcasts, and other requests for free stuff.
So, I made several business decisions recently, some of which went live on the site today:
- The "Listen, Love It, Buy It" slogan is gone, replaced with a simple "Music downloads & License" and a sub-line of "Listen all you want for free, then license our music online, or buy our MP3/WAV downloads". This highlights our licensing, but is also a reaction to all the email I get asking people to highlight the non-DRMness of Magnatune
- A paragraph describing what we do is on the home page: "Listen to over 500 hand-picked complete albums. If you like what you hear, download an album for as little as $5 (you pick the price), or buy a real CD, or license our music for commercial use. You'll get MP3s & WAVs, and no copy protection (DRM), ever."
- More controversially, I'm ending our "free perfect quality album for students and podcasters" promotion. What this means is that if you want a copy of the WAV files of an album, you'll need to spend at least $5 to buy it. If you can settle for 128k MP3s, you can download them for free, under the non-commercial license option, just as you've always been able to. Until today, if you were a student or podcaster, in addition to being able to freely download our 128k mp3s without contacting us, you could also email us and ask for a free full quality download of the album you were interested in. The problem with this policy is that we were getting dozens of requests every day from students for free albums and I have to pay someone to go through each request to see that it's sincere, and not someone just trying to cage a free album from us. That's expensive, and I'm not sure that paying someone to give free albums away is a good investment. As far as requests for free albums for podcasters go, a lot of requests are from commercial podcasts trying to get royalty free music, and it's really not worth arguing with them when a podcast license for a song is just $8. When it came to non-commercial podcasts, which I really do want to promote, my staff person had to check out their web site, make sure they're really non-commercial, and then send them the music. When we followed up, we found that less than one in five of the podcasters we'd given music to had actually played our music on their podcast. That's a lot of wasted effort, so I've decided that from now on, if you want a perfect quality version of an album, you need to spend at least $5 and buy it. If you're a non-commercial podcaster, you can play that audio on your podcast royalty free (and ASCAP/BMI free, too, under the Creative Commons license terms). It's a tough decision, but hopefully people who are disappointed with this change will realize that Magnatune needs to make money if it's going to survive, which means we can't always give things away for free.
Two new initiatives we're starting to work on, that will take about 4-6 months to launch:
- OnSiteMusic.com - a Magnatune spin-off company, that will focus exclusively on licensing music to stores and restaurants (ie, Muzak, only cool and not evil). This will also tie into our new wholesale-to-shops CD offering, letting stores sell our music, with their own packaging if they wish (ie, like Starbucks does)
- iLicenseMusic.com - a Magnatune spin-off company that will focus exclusively on music licensing. We believe some companies are confused or turned off by all the consumer offerings of Magnatune (downloads, CDs, podcasts, etc), and just want to get the music they need, and get on with their work.
Magnatune will continue to offer everything we do, but the Magnatune web site will continue to be crowded with options, and so I think that specialized sites that clearly do one thing well, are a good decision for the future.