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February 25, 2006



I know you hate culture of celebrity but a big pull quote like "...simply the best indie music on the web, and every song is available for free listening, it's about time..." by Big Important Person (hint: not a professor at Stanford) in very large type will do the trick.

Roy Blumenthal

Hiya John...

This is what I would do in your shoes:

Listen to hours of music for free -- legally.
Buy music once you're sure you love it, choose the price yourself, and the artist gets half.
All the content on this site is distributed under Creative Commons licenses.

Those issues: legality, self-pricing, artist compensation, are important considerations. The Creative Commons appeal proves the legality.

I use the following four questions when determining communications:

1. Who is the target market?
2. What's the offer?
3. What proves the offer?
4. What's the takeout.

I think your old site was indeed clever clever, with no clear offer. This new approach feels more like it's communicating the offer. The proof behind the offer is essential. If you don't offer that, then you might just be another Russian warez site. Who knows? The person visiting makes up their mind in the first 5 seconds, and then they're gone.

The takeout is the subtle thing that most people miss out on. 'We are not evil' has a VERY negative takeout. While it's clever targetting for musicians, it's terrible for consumers. The emotional resonance it leaves in a casual visitor is: 'Methinks he doth protest too much.' Putting it another way, would you buy a used car from a salesperson who introduced himself as 'Honest Roy'? And then kept peppering his speech with, 'To be honest with you...'?

Crafting takeout is vital. Your aim is to get people to leave the communication with a warm feeling of trust. This happens if the proof and the offer and the targetting are all congruent.

You're definitely getting there by shifting away from the clever stuff, all of which had negative takeout in my opinion.

The open source thing can stay, but not as one of the top three pieces of information supplied by the site.

Good luck!!! May those percentages rise!!!

Blue skies

Nathan Jones

30 seconds is a long time, but admitedly not long enough to choose an album and start listening. The question is, how does 63% compare to other sites? What are some common characteristics of sites with lower percentages? How many of the 63% are repeat visitors just checking to see if there is anything new? (BTW, the New Releases RSS feed is empty.) How many have heard that it's a good place to get music, but turn away when they don't recognise any of the artists?

I think the changes you've made are good, though it may not be enough change to significantly reduce the 63%. Roy and Victor have better suggestions than I can offer.

Regarding disliking the "culture of celebrity", don't let that be Magnatune's downfall. If you ever get a well know platinum artist knocking on your door, sign them up immediately and cross-promote for all it's worth.

Regarding "takeout", I hadn't realised the negative takeout from the "we are not evil" slogan, but it's a good point. It's fine for those of us who see evil in the industry, but it's not a great selling point for the masses.

However, I think it's good to leave some references to the way Magnatune is fighting the evil music industry: this has followed through when I've been talking to people about music, the industry and Magnatune. You have to be true to your philosophy, even if you tone it down on the home page.

I wonder if it's feasible to pick 3-5 Magnatune features and highlight them in a box on the home page. As an example, a site I'm familiar with is LiveJournal. Here's their home page before SixApart bought them:


Have a look at http://www.livejournal.com/ now and you'll see that someone with some useability and design experience has done a facelift:

- Main features are summarised.
- Roll-over one of the features and you learn more about it.
- Separate boxes higlight things of interest: buy space, buy merchandise, browse popular interests. In Magnatune world, you'd highlight genres, the featured album, new releases, etc.


I am wondering why all important texts in the first half of the homepage are images. There is no reason for it, and more importantly people with visual deficiences --they are potential music listeners and thus buyers-- might not know what the site is all about. Ok, it won't explain all the 63% of people getting away in less than 30s, but it could explain a small part of it.

I second ideas said previously. One doesn't care about the « we are not evil », and might even be afraid of it. But one might be interested by « listen to hours of music, legally ».

Another reason might be those 63% only want to download complete mp3 albums of the top hits. So, a not evil indie site ? They just don't care.

Anyway it's very interesting to see Magnatune evolve, and the reasons behind those, so keep us entertained :)

Roy Blumenthal

Oh, John, by the way...

One of the major selling points in my book, and the thing I tell people about, is that everything on Magnatune is hand picked. I've listened across genres, even to genres I don't like, and I still haven't heard a single dud track on your site. I wonder if this is a strong selling point for other people?

Blue skies

John M.

Comments from the peanut gallery.

Here are some random thoughts: I agree about de-emphasis on things like "evil", and "open". It made sense when the primary goal was to capture the attention of the the slashdot crowd (like me).

The first thing that I notice when I load the main page is that there is nothing that graphically screams "music" to me, I notice a lot of other music site will use motifs like headphones, speakers, music notes, etc. I've always liked the blue thing because its kind of cool looking, but it doesn't make me think of music. All the appearances of the word music are also in small (standard size) fonts, or mixed in with other text.

The fonts used in the tab bar across the top are kind of small, imho. The word artists doesn't jump out at you, you kind of have to look for it.

One extra feature might be a link to try a sample track of each genre right off the front page, to whet the visitors appetite.

This is probably only affects me :-), but in konqueror the links don't differentiate from other text. In firefox they look okay, but I don't know how they'd look in other browsers (like safari?).

I hope my criticism was constructive. I love this site and hope you can get more customers!

in a nutshell: less egghead. I think it's a very good idea.


We're wondering if you've released any new albums...


I've bought several albums in the past, and I fairly regularly look at the main page just to check for new artists. FWIW, I suppose much of my traffic is just an isolated hit to the homepage.


I don't know, if it is just me ... but i shy away from site, which have a big FREE in the title (unless it talks about free software).

Glukx Ouglouk

"I am wondering why all important texts in the first half of the homepage are images. There is no reason for it, and more importantly people with visual deficiences --they are potential music listeners and thus buyers-- might not know what the site is all about."

The HTML tags for those images have a "alt" field with plain old text, to be displayed on non graphical browsers... and read by speech synthetiser softwares. So I think there shouldn't be any problem with those images.

Nathan Jones

Roy wrote: "I wonder if this is a strong selling point for other people?"

I think so. It's easier to find good music on Magnatune than on sites that allow all artists to upload their music. Likewise, I've never heard a -dud- on Magnatune, but I've heard plenty of stuff that holds no appeal for me at all. The classical music is great, but I couldn't listen to it all day. There's "rock" that doesn't rock and metal that just sounds like rock.

I don't envy Magnatune: it tries to keep the catalog small enough that all artists get a fair share, but it's hard to appeal to more people without covering more genres and sub-genres.

Ryan Sawhill

Good comments all, but I just wanted to chip in and send my encouragement your way John. That's a great change to the main page. Rock on.

Matthew Bowden

Firstly you have to think - how does your site estimate how long a person has been visiting. If you request the home page via a link does it record this as a 1 second visit or a 2 minute visit.

My first visit i read the page bookmarked it and came back later.

Still got to get round to buying but thats because I look at the site while i am at work and dont have time in the evening.

Simo Sainio

The thing that appealed to me first time i heard about this site was the lack of DRM. That alone makes your deals sound a whole lot more fair than any protected wma file that i need a password to listen to on a crappy shop-specific player software.

Maybe the absence of DRM could be emphasised more, what do others think?

Nick Busigin

Regarding the "We are not evil" slogan, you may want to consider replacing that with something that has a positive spin like "We don't cripple our music with digital rights management locks - because we trust our listeners and customers".

Nick Busigin

Here's another thought: Why not have a contest for a new slogan to replace "We are not evil" - with one that has a positive spin. The prize could be a number of CDs, a subscription, etc.. A publicity campaign associated with such a contest could be used to get you more visitors/customers.


Nathan Jones

"Maybe the absence of DRM could be emphasised more, what do others think?"

Agreed. The hurdle-free use of music due to the absence of copy controls is a very big feature. But don't refer to it as "DRM" - that's a term that many people are coming to know, but is still not understood by the majority of music buyers.


>Regarding the "We are not evil" slogan...

>"We do not cripple our music with digital rights management locks."
>"We trust our listeners and customers."

That is an excellent compromise !

Magnatune Fan

Changing the "We are not evil" slogan is a bad idea. It is the headline that sets Magnatune apart from other sites. It's not negative; it's funny. Changing it to some fluffy "positve" PR cliches would be a mistake. You are not evil so you should declare it to the world.

Glukx Ouglouk

I also love this slogan ! Of, course, it's probably not understandable by everyone, so it's a good idea to use something easier to understand on your home page ; but it's a great slogan, which helps to define well what magnatune is.

It's not the right slogan to catch the attention of first time visitors, but it's the right one for people who have allready decided to try to understand what you are.

Nathan Jones

One last comment on the slogan. Perhaps the theme is good, but the execution problematic.

With "we are not evil", you directly make a claim about Magnatune, risking coming across like a used car salesman (see 'Honest Roy' comments above).

With something like "fighting the evil music industry", you highlight a problem within the industry (rather than assuming that everyone already thinks it's evil), and infer that Magnatune is offering a better alternative.

Daniel Barkalow

Does the 63% include cases like links from other sites to the .m3u files? If most people follow these links, listen to albums/mixes for half an hour, and then come back to buy the albums, and the length-of-visit calculation doesn't identify them as returning (or staying for a long time), you might get numbers like these.

I, for one, regularly take less than 30s to get to the genre radio mix I feel like listening to at the moment, and often listen to that in preference to things I've bought so that I'll be exposed to more stuff I don't already know. I also prefer to listen online at work, but make purchases at home.

A more interesting statistic would be how many m3u files a visitor requests, and you can worry about the people who leave without hearing any music.

As for the home page, I like the logo, but I think the blurb should have a note that the music plays with the user's own software; a few nights ago, I tried listening to music from some other site, and it uses a flash thing that kept turning the volume up, playing half a song, then turning it up again and playing something different. Then we switched to listening to Magnatune, and played stuff through iTunes for the rest of the evening without any hassle.

Terry Hancock

Has it occured to you that you may be famous? Some people may be leaving because the front page *succeeded* in giving them what they were looking for.

Some people may be following links to the site based on the concept of the site. They may think "Oh, how about that, it's really there", and then leave. Some of them may even be coming back later.

The thing is, 18% stickiness is not all that bad -- this is the World Wide Web: attention-spans are short.

Or to put it another way -- you might be losing some people who would otherwise surf further and buy music, or you might be gaining people who aren't looking for what you sell, but find you interesting nevertheless (I'd be in one of those logs, although at a later time, I spent some time looking at your licensing pages).

I will say this, though -- I don't like the NC clause much. And that is why *I* left without going any further (that's not meant as a value judgement, but a simple statement of fact -- this license is incompatible with my interests).

If one were, for example, to be looking for soundtrack artists for a free (GPL-licensed) game, your site is a complete write-off (completely *un*hypothetical case, obviously). I can't even get the information to contact the artist and ask *them* if they would re-license some content under GPL or By-SA (I admit I haven't checked that as thoroughly as I could -- but I didn't see any way to do it). Nope, it's blanket licensing.

NC is useless for that application. So is your "commercial licensing" option -- first of all, there's no way I'm going to pay for content to go with software *I* am giving away for free (parity principle), nor am I about to fork over $10,000+ dollars for *anything* any time soon.

Even were I intending to sell the game (in which case I would, by the same parity principle, be willing to pay a commission for music), I would still be stuck on the licensing. I will never release any software under an NC clause (it would be totally counterproductive to do so), so there's simply no way I could include NC content.

Yet, this very NON-trivial distinction is buried on your site. You advertise prominently that your Music is under a "Creative Commons" license, but you *don't say which*. CC provides icons for this purpose -- there should be a CC-By-NC-SA icon *on the front page*.

In fact, your new "Why we are not evil" page would appear to intentionally obfuscate this point! This is the one place I think "We are not evil" rings false. False advertising is evil. And forcing me to waste time finding the truth only to be let down is evil. Maybe not big evil, and maybe not obvious to you, but enough to be annoying. No one (not even you) is being served by being cagey about your license choice. You need to establish that expectation right up front. It won't help with your 63% of people leaving from the first page (maybe it'll even go up), but it won't create negative impressions on people who do go further only to turn away later. Personally, I bet 99% of the people who visit your site just want to listen to music themselves, and don't care about the NC clause. But do you need the bad buzz from the remaining 1%?

Now, I'm not Richard Stallman, and I personally *do* "endorse" Creative Commons, but the problem he raises about license confusion is right on target: CC (and you as a user of CC licenses), need to be clearer about license discrimination and advertising. As has been acknowledged by even CC itself, the CC license*s* produce not *a* "commons" but many balkanized "commons" which cannot trade with each other.

Which leads to the other point -- you *are* cluttering the field, diluting the "free" "brand". When I asked a colleague where to look for free music, you were one of the first people mentioned (and he knew exactly which "free" I meant, so the confusion was in him knowing your license, not my requirements).

Let me repeat, I am not trying to say that you are "evil after all". I'm fully aware that you are a company trying to make money for you and your artists, and I fully agree that "artists should be paid for their work" (at least, they should be paid enough). I'm just pointing out that your licensing scheme is not for everybody. And that may account for some attrition in viewers becoming buyers.

Now, of course, you may ask, "Why would an artist ever want to contribute to my project under a license that allows commercial redistribution?". This is not as clear-cut a case as it is for software, I admit. Unless the work is in an intrinsically collaboration-friendly format (basically a "module file" or a "midi"), it is unlikely that the artist will receive the "development leverage" advantage of free software. That pretty much leaves "the reputation game".

However, a free software program, *especially a game* will get distributed much further and faster (pretty much instantaneously and globally) than just about anything else you can do. That would translate to a lot of exposure. That kind of advertising could be worth a lot (it sells your other work). It is also, of course, true, that you as the artist, can bundle the game on your own CD or make other commercial use of it, so you can actually sell the work itself (and my work to boot -- so you did get some leverage after all).

This is not a business plan that does well on its own -- it gets the best advantage for the artist when only some of their work is so-licensed. But I think it does show that there are sane reasons for using a By-SA on some works.

Well, my topic has drifted, but I hope that both points are of interest to you. Cheers, and good luck with Magnatune.

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