Today’s younger consumers who missed the glory days of the record store as a cultural hub will probably have little awareness of the cut-out bin. The cut-out bin was dreaded by artists and labels alike, but it served an important function in the ecosystem and economy of record sales. This was the rack in the record store where over manufactured titles made their last stop before the trash bin.
The cut-out bin was the last stop for an album, not the first stop. This is a very important consideration in today’s digital music economy. Artists, you deserve better service from your labels, management and partners.
Having your record appear in “the cut-outs” didn’t mean the album wasn’t successful, to the contrary, many of the records in cut-out bins were by well known name artists. Many of these records contained hit songs and singles. However, for whatever reason the quantities manufactured exceeded the markets ability to absorb those units into sales. At some point the decision was made to either monetize the overstock, or destroy the overstock.
The net result of the cut-out bin was that full length albums were often priced below the cost of a current 45 rpm single. However, this pricing distinction occurred at least a year or more after the initial release of the album. An album was “cut-out”after all of the front line sales, traditional discounts and higher margin retail channels had long been exhausted. Cut-out supplies were also limited and inconsistent. In other words, it was only the most patient and adventurous consumer who benefited from this deep discount.
Honestly, who would buy an album at full price if the same exact product (sans for the cut off top right corner) could be had for less than the price of current single?
So here we are a decade and a half into the new millennium and the best “new business model” for artists and rights holders in the 21st Century Digital Economy is to start at the last stop on the value chain? You’re kidding us, right? We wish.
So how did we get here? Well, in three words “Ad Funded Piracy.” The lowest price for a product or service sets the price floor for all other comparable products. In the case of music that price has been set at about zero for over a decade and a half. But that’s not say there’s no money being made in the distribution of music online. No, there’s actually a lot of money being made by the Internet Advertising Networks supplying the advertising that fuels the corporate profits to over half a million infringing pirate sites.
It should also be noted that the CEO of the leading ad-funded, free to consumer streaming service was also the creator of the most successful ad-funded, bit-torrent client, u-torrent. Yup, that’s none other than Spotify’s Daniel Ek. Shocker, right?
Obviously, pirates and thieves are going to pirate and steal. These people should not be the first concern of business executives seeking to expand their profits on digital platforms. Enterprise level piracy requires the political will to enforce the law against egregious digital robber barons. Anti-Piracy is an “in addition to” action, not an “instead of” action. The future of the music business must be rooted in both innovation and advocacy.
Windows work. Period.
Business decisions need to developed through common sense, innovation and time tested principles of basic economics. We’ll repeat our previous suggestion for an industry wide, consistent windowing platform strategy below.
Windowing works better when there is a reasonable amount of consistency. Our friends in the film business have been highly effective at windowing for decades and there’s no reason why it can’t work similarly well for the record business.
Every new release should have the option to determine the release windows when the record is being set up. For example the default could be 0,30,60,90 day option for transactional sales, followed by 0,30,60,90 day option for Subscription Streaming prior to being available for Free Streaming.
Windowing is not new for the record business. The industry has never had pricing ubiquity across all releases, genres and catalogs. There has always been strategic and flexible pricing strategies to differentiate developing artists, hits, mid-line catalog, and deep catalog. An industry wide initiative to re-allign time proven price elasticity is the key to growing the business and developing a broad based sustainable ecosystem for more artists.
- Windowing allows for Free Streaming to exist as a strategic price point.
- Windowing allows for Subscription Streaming to exist as a strategic price point.
- Windowing allows for Transactional Downloads to exist as a strategic price point.
- Windowing allows for artists and rights holders to determine the best and most mutually beneficial way to engage with their fans.
Windowing is the key (as it always has been) in rebuilding a sustainable and robust professional middle class that will inevitably lead to more artists ascending to the ranks of stars. Some will become superstars and legends capable of creating the types of sales and revenues currently achieved by Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyonce’. To get there however we need to abandon Stockholm Syndrome and embrace windowing that works for everyone.