Would You Pay? The Brave New World of Online Music
If you've been anywhere on the internet over the last several years, you've probably heard about the difficulties music companies are having in getting people to pay for the music they download. In fact, you may have downloaded "free" music yourself or at least been tempted to try it.
Now there's a new idea on the horizon to get people to pay for the music they download. There's talk about building a "Foursquare for music," to quote venture capitalist Tim Chang. The gist is pretty simple — make listening to and downloading music into a game, like Foursquare has done with going to places in the neighborhood. Users will earn awards, badges, and achievements for the music they listen to and download from the site (for a fee, of course), and their friends will be notified of these. Users may also be eligible for a small sum when someone downloads a song or playlist they suggest.
On the one hand, this seems like a pretty obvious gimmick to get people to pay for music. Who really cares about a badge on the computer screen, especially when it cost you the price of several albums to get it? Are people really going to fall for something like this?
On the other hand, look at how many people play games like MafiaWars, FarmVille, and more on social networks like Facebook. If people can be convinced to care about the health of their fake online strawberry patch, maybe the iconic little badges will be enough to encourage them to buy music. In fact, the more I think about this idea, the more I think it just might work. Here's why.
It appeals to people who care about what others think of their musical tastes. While people of all ages download music illegally, the most likely culprits are high school and college students. However, these are the age groups that also care the most about what their peers think of them. If they can advertise their musical tastes by winning titles, badges and awards for them, they might be willing to pay.
Social networking is more powerful than it seems like it should be. When Facebook was started in a dorm room, who ever thought it would be the internet power that it is today, yet here we are. There's something about connecting with others online that seems to draw us in, even if we don't particularly want to be drawn. I can't tell you how many friends I have on Facebook who once refused to join. Who's to say the same won't happen with music, over time?
People are suckers for making "easy" money. Part of the scheme behind a social network focused on music would probably be financial rewards for listeners when someone downloaded one of their playlists. While the kickback will probably be relatively small, even that is enough to draw a lot of people in. Look at how many people voluntarily do tasks from Amazon's Mechanical Turk, where the payouts are positively minuscule. If there's a chance of making money, most likely there will be plenty of takers.
None of this is to say that such an online gamble would succeed, just that it could. What do you make of this type of social network? Would it draw you in? Would you pay?
Kudos to Pitchfork's Poptimist, where I first heard about this intriguing possibility.