Source: Jack White to Industry: Oh Yeah? Well, Watch This – Idolator
The recent strings of album drops are akin to a personal surprise birthday party for some people, depending on if you like Saul Williams or Radiohead. Most importantly it’s led many to wonder, “How effective is it?” and “How much money can you make off this?” and the proverbial “Is the record industry dead?” question. After watching Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and now The Raconteurs take their shots at surprising the world and releasing albums either immediately or imminently, more often than not due to digital distribution, tonight’s news shows that the stabbing in the dark is finally sinking the Battleship. (I promise, the metaphorical well will dry up in the course of this post.)
Jack White seems to have more smarts than Radiohead in ensuring the imminent release of Consolers of the Lonely will be available in as many formats as possible on March 25th. Radiohead lost a lot of physical CD sales momentum when they had everyone in a stir over their new album being digitally released. They waited too long, releasing the physical album months after the digital release. I personally was ready to finally dish out money after spending £0.00 for the 192kbps mp3s, but have I bought it yet? Nope, because consumers get easily distracted. Will I buy it? Probably, eventually, but it’s no longer priority. Most importantly, however, is that this time lag between digital and physical not only lost dollar momentum, but media exposure and attention. At the time of the digital release, they had everyone talking-even those who didn’t care about Radiohead at all.
The new album will be released in vinyl, CD and digital (iTunes and the like, but you can net a 360kbps mp3 version through their site). Assuming iTunes Plus picks up the album, there’s no compelling reason to go to The Raconteurs site for a typical consumer, since 256 AAC is nearly if not exactly the same sound quality as 360 MP3 (unless you’ve got ears like a hawk). Jack White & Co. realized, as well as Nine Inch Nails, that supplying the album-at the same time-in numerous formats will ensure the maximum impact. The genius stroke is The Raconteurs’ ability to localize the formats, evident by the mobile release in Japan. However, Trent realized the collectors pay a premium and has capitalized handsomely on it. Handsome with a $1,619,420 first week sales on 781,917 transactions, to be exact. Guaranteed The Raconteurs will profit from this move far more than if they didn’t. Free media exposure (which has been diminishing as artists pull similar marketing moves) can go far, if you know how to exploit the media marionettes. But the profitable collector segment is nowhere to be seen, unlike Trent who capitalized on it. How much did that boost him? 2,500 limited edition copies at $300 each brings you $750,000-or 46% of total first week sales.
One point I respect the most is The Raconteurs’ decision to keep the album in one strict tracklist, sans bonus tracks…
Of late, I’ve been increasingly upset over the multitude of album versions diluting what an album really is. It’s as pointless as releasing those Greatest Hits, then the ensuing generic umbrella greatest hits after that. It alienates the consumer. How? Hey, you just bought Zeitgeist from Target? You didn’t get the whole album, since there’s different versions at Circuit City, iTunes, and Best Buy too! It raises the question about what is the real, definitive album faithful to the artist’s vision? In my opinion, the only justifiable way to respect the consumer and the album itself is to re-release it with the music videos from the album included after you’re done messing with that particular album. (Sorry for the tangent, sore spot.) Not throwing on b-sides after the initial sales finish riding out their plateau, you could do that on your own b-sides collection (it’s less alienating).
The one week buffer between the press release and the actual release is most conscious in a business sense than anything. Trent basically said, “Here it is!” Whoever bought it was at the whim of controlling the marketing. Example? I was interested, then a trusted audiophile told me it wasn’t all that great. Will I spend $5 now for it? Probably not. Before? More likely, as Year Zero was rather fantastic and longer lasting than With Teeth. The band claims the one week buffer is also to not be viewed as a knee-jerk reaction to the potential (inevitable) leak, but I doubt people think of it in that way. Plus, there’s no reason to worry about that reaction, or viewpoint. People don’t base their purchasing decisions on whether or not you release an album in response to a leak, 95% of the people probably haven’t realized your album leaked by the time your album hits the (digital) shelves.
Aside from releasing it in many versatile formats, the band’s latest revelation that even I didn’t expect was their idea to spread the marketing and promotion after the album’s release. In relation to the aforementioned inevitable leak, promoting the album heavily after the actual release may just ensure that most of the people will notice you have a new album, and then know they can immediately go purchase it. For impulse buying, this is fantastic-as the barriers are immediately removed in having to wait until the release date (for those who don’t find out in the next week). Promoting after the release, with it already available, takes away the too-excited anticipation downloads for those who can’t wait. I guarantee much of the illegal downloading of albums is due to the album coming out weeks, or months, from when it spills out there. The pressure to download it, when that’s your only option, can overwhelm people’s resistance-and if it sucks, good luck getting that sale. It prevents potential negative press, or even lukewarm, that can impact initial sales. However, the financials behind all that are theoretical.
So, does this end the record labels as we know it? Hardly. You have to be known to pull something like this off, and they’re still doing it through Third Man Records, XL Recordings, and Warner Brothers. (It spreads the advertising/promotion cost and responsibility, but also allows you to negotiate with distributers.) I’ll feel bad when a small band thinks they can pull some elaborate “Here’s my album!” campaign, and it fails, for the first time. Regardless, this is the first marketing campaign for an album release that I can actually point to as a prime example of how to do things.
“We hope not to confuse anyone with too many options, or deny them the formats that they like best. The Raconteurs feel very strongly that music has a worth and should be treated as such. Thank you to all those who respect music in this fashion, and thank you to our label partners for working with us to get this album to fans in as many formats as possible all at once.”
I’ve gotta admit. Jack White used to annoy me when the White Stripes hit the radio, but he’s definitely won me over in the past four years. This solidifies it.
Note: As per my first analysis post, people probably wonder who I am. Well, been studying marketing for a few years at the university, but spent my high school years driving an hour plus into Chicago to catch shows at the (soon-to-be-legendary) Fireside Bowl, a.k.a. the CBGB’s of Chicago, or the dingiest Emerald City of music west of Lake Michigan.
More Number Crunching Edit: $750,000 for those special edition copies. Put it another way: If an artist receives $0.20 per mp3 off a download service, which I believe is high…$750,000 is akin to selling 3,750,000 mp3s. Divided by a general average album length of 12 songs gives you 312,500 general albums sold-NOT counting the non-collector edition sales. Generally speaking, he pulled nearly the same revenue of selling 300,000 copies from only 2,500 people! That’s nuts.