Wednesday, 13 May 2009

New Music on We7

I liked the original concept behind We7 where you could download tracks with a short advert at the start but a month later, you had the option to download an advert free version. They stopped doing that some time ago and when I asked why, they made the excuse that very few people took advantage of the advert free download so they had decided to discontinue it. I didn't believe that reason then and I still think it's a daft excuse now. I think it's much more likely that they just couldn't get the record companies to buy into the model. Bah!

Now that they've lost this unique selling point, I must admit that I've more or less stopped listening to music on We7. For streamed music I now tend to use Spotify (which has a better interface and more of the music I want to listen to) or Last.fm (which has a good, established community of users).

However, I've stayed on We7's mailing list and follow their Twitter posts and so noticed a recent development. They have been advertisong that you can listen to new music on We7 before it is available to buy. For example, you can listen to the new Green Day album, in its entirety on We7 just now (prior to its official release) and they've teamed up with the Gruniad to let you listen to Jarvis Cocker's new album (again, prior to its release).

I thought this was interesting for a couple of reasons. One is the tie in with a national newspaper. Papers have been giving away music CDs (and films on DVD for that matter) for a while now. By distributing through a site like We7, the paper can get the kudos (and I assume they hope extra sales) that come from giving away music without all the hassle and expense of packaging and distributing those pesky little silver disks. Papers seem desperate to attract younger readers which has produced some strange bedfellows (e.g. the Daily Mail giving away a Prince CD). So perhaps another reason electronic distribution appears attractive to the papers is they assume "the young things are doing it already" and so, by providing a streaming music service, they hope to be seen as hip and trendy. (The fact that I use a phrase like "hip and trendy" shows how far out of touch I am, so the last point may be nonsense.)

The second reason I think it's interesting is the change in business model it implies for We7. I guess the record companies like it because they don't have to give away something (i.e. a CD) that fans can keep and do with as they will. The companies can let fans (and potential fans) hear new material for free but can still reasonably expect that people who like what they hear will spend some money to buy it. In other words, We7 has gone from an innovate new way to deliver music to fans (while making money for record companies) to a glorified advertising mechanism for record company product. This makes me sad.

However, perhaps I'm being unfair. Certainly my daughters say that I am now officially a GOM (a Grumpy Old Man) so maybe that's too cynical a view. We7 have to make money somehow if they want to say in the business of giving access to a wide range of free, streamed music. If this allows them to keep growing and developing so that they can go back to more innovative distribution methods in the future, maybe its worth it.

6 comments:

Jeff said...

We7 saddens me. I came across their site last year around the time I started my free music blog and gave them a glowing review, even though everyone I talked to was pretty much repulsed by the idea of ads in music. My reasoning was that if people will sit through a TV program where ads take up 25% of the time, why should a very short ad at the beginning of a song be a big deal? I downloaded a lot of great music from them, and it was always fun trying to decide which songs were worth redownloading without the ads after a month had passed. I stopped paying any attention to them at all when they stopped offering downloads, and I unfortunately lost most of the music I had downloaded from them because I kept it on my computer at an office I no longer work at.

I would love to see them return to something like their old business model, but I'm not hopeful. Still, ads work so well in so many other media - if not We7, maybe someone else will find a way to make them work with music.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Love your blog! Added it to my links. I'd never even heard of We7 till now, guess I am out of touch.

David said...

Hello Jeff

I agree 100%. The original business model of We7 was bold, innovative and great for fans... I suspect that's why the record companies didn't like it. :-)

Hello Barbara/Layla

Glad you found your way here and thank you for the kind comment. I've been following your blog for a while (http://laylasclassicrock.blogspot.com/) and was sorry to read about your recent bad news.

Steve Purdham We7 CEO said...

Hi David
Checked your post out and I was interested in your points so I thought I would jump in.

Our desire was to create a great place to consume music free where the artist got paid (and we made some money).

At the beginning we tried ad funded downloads, while early tests had some initial success and consumer acceptance the music industry was in flux at the time and I learnt several things which really helped us define what was going to be possible.

First it became obvious that matching the economics of downloads with advertising that this was going to be a bridge too far (that was even ignoring the MP3 problem at the time). So the economics was not going to work for anybody.

Secondly it also became obvious that over time downloads are only going to be a transitory thing, once you can be online always then if you have access to all music why would you need to download. (I am a technologist so I know the technical issues of what I am saying but also know it temporary)

I have been successful historically by being pragmatic so we re-looked at what was the art of the possible that is why we moved to a streaming and that allowed us to accelerate massively enabling to get many label deals and now have an on-line jukebox of over 4m songs under licence where you can listen to all you want free and integrated a MP3 retail store so you can buy what you love for downloading.

So we managed to get the music and launched in Nov 08 in full, without any real fanfare we are only a few weeks away from 1m UK users and are now the 8th most accessed music site in the UK.

Your point on becoming an glorified ad mechanism for the record companies couldn't be further from the truth. What we are trying to get to is allow music to be available anywhere where you read or see a reference to any song , any album any playlist. That is really waht we are doing with people like the Gruniad and NME and now more and more blogs. So people can put the music into the features news etc.

We still have a long to go we are in the the final part of the mission, we have built the jukebox, the audience is coming faster than we planned and now its about getting the economics to work, ie can we sell the millions of ad impressions at rates taht will pay for the music.

I am cautiously confident that we can make it work as long as we keep the balance going. we have pioneered many things that are now seen as common and we keep moving everything foward.

Hope that you will continue to follow us and keep your musings going.

All the best

Cheers


Steve
Steve Purdham CEO We7
We7 - Great Free Music

David said...

Hello Steve

Thanks for dropping by and giving a detailed response. I did feel a bit guilty about the "glorified advertising mechanism" comment and tried to soften it with the final paragraph... but it was a bit of a low blow.

I'm not surprised to hear that the record companies were more keen on streaming than downloading. However, they've come a long way in a fairly short time - from pretending the Internet didn't exist and hoping it would go away to embracing Internet music distribution. So don't give up on the ad supported model... give them time and the record companies might catch up with you. :-)

Steve Purdham We7 CEO said...

Cheers David
Have a great weekend
S