Why Music Matters

News | March 27th, 2010

Hi all, Justin here.

A few days ago, Magnatune.com- Justin’s non-exclusive label- made some abrupt and drastic changes to their site and business model. Instantly gone was the site’s physical CD sales, with founder John Buckman citing numerous issues with their manufacturer. Also killed off was the site’s streaming membership; essentially a high-quality pay-per-month radio station. Variable pricing, one of Magnatune’s killer features, was traded away in favor of $12 album pricing. Magnatune’s new product? Buffet. Magnatune.com now offers a $15/month download membership. Download whatever you want, in almost any quality you want, and keep them forever. Their new slogan is “Ten thousand songs for only $15/month” and they clearly mean it.

A few days ago they ditched album sales altogether. No more CD sales, no more digital album sales, not even for $12 apiece. It’s download membership or nothing.

I respect Magnatune and the marketing power they’ve helped put behind my music. Their music licensing capabilities are what helped fund my continued music production, and I value their partnership. I also think this is dead wrong. Variable pricing (the idea that you can choose what you’d like to pay for an album, between $5 and $18) was unique, and it was a great act of faith that helped solidify their market. Most people paid more than you’d expect, and felt good knowing half went directly to the artist. Full streaming before purchase was right on, and DRM-free music was there long before the rest of the industry figured it out.

The truth is, though, that Magnatune was always a company with a shrinking niche market. It was only a matter of time before the digital music industry matured and ditched DRM, making things simpler for customer ever more reluctant to open their wallets. The commodity of Magnatune was their willingness to stand up and say “we think we have great music, and we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt in the hope that you’ll think so too.” Now, it’s more like “please, take it, because it’s getting dusty.”

Numbers don’t lie, but there are two things going on here. First, the economy sucks. Second, if you push a product that’s far cheaper than the rest, your numbers will point straight towards it. That doesn’t mean that it’s the right choice in the long run. Raising prices on album downloads will clearly push more people to the membership when the difference is $3.

So I’m rethinking the future of my music. Is it worth it to me to get virtually nothing for months of work? Is it worth the emails I get from strangers telling me how much they loved it? Music is important- not just to listen to, but to create. I have passion for it and probably couldn’t stop if I tried. Heck, if enough people read this and tell me they agree, I’d even consider opening my own variable pricing store. But to say that a huge chunk of my best work is worth some small portion of $15 is simply short-sighted.