Double bassist and frequent Contrabass Conversations collaborator John Grillo sent me a link to this interesting article in a recent issue of Newsweek discussing the increasing sales of classical music downloadable content:
….classical retailers have been the best at exploiting the potential of online revenue. The biggest companies of the classical genre are now earning about 20 percent of sales from digital music, double or triple the average for other categories. This is a tremendous advantage for them, since selling music in the digital format can be twice as profitable as it is offline due to the extremely low costs of digitally producing, storing and distributing music. The bottom line: while this may well be one of the worst years for music sales in general since charts were started in the 1960s, most classical labels expect revenue to continue to rise.
Musically speaking, the classical genre has proved to be ideal for a digital era. The classical customer is technologically savvy and more likely to buy in bulk, and the viral nature of the Net has allowed the music to be heard by new audiences, fueling overall sales. "The classical-music sector has done a very good job of maximizing the opportunity of the Internet," notes Mark Mulligan, a digital-music analyst at Forrester Research.
Read the complete article here.
One interesting phenomenon facilitated by the Internet discussed in this article is the ‘long tail’ theory. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of the term for those unfamiliar with it:
The phrase The Long Tail (as a proper noun with capitalized letters) was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article to describe certain business and economic models such as Amazon.com or Netflix. Businesses with distribution power can sell a greater volume of otherwise hard to find items at small volumes than of popular items at large volumes. The term long tail is also generally used in statistics, often applied in relation to wealth distributions or vocabulary use.
Classical music, already a niche market in the eyes of major retailers (ever looked at the shelf space devoted to classical music at your local Best Buy?), is further divided into sub-niches–string quartet, brass ensemble, early music, contemporary music–making the prospect of finding any specific desired recording very dim. On the Internet, every track is available all the time, and every distributor (whether Sony Classical or the West Niles String Quartet) theoretically just as reachable by the consumer as any other.
The level playing field that the Internet provides makes it possible for a classical music ensemble to record, edit, and sell their recordings independently without the added overhead of CD production and hassle of trying to get it in front of potential buyers. It is surprisingly easy these days for an orchestra to produce and sell their own tracks on their own web site, submit them to iTunes (via CD Baby or another such third party service), and still allow for the purchase of CDs. Making tracks available digitally opens up a global (rather than local) audience, and the enormously lower cost of digital distribution makes it more practical for ensembles to create and produce their own recordings.
Great job selling your music, orchestras– how about some more innovation on the digital media side of things now? YouTube videos, podcasts, selling live and unedited performances of specific evenings as downloadable MP3s, audio and video spotlights on specific sections and individuals within the ensemble, call-in shows via TalkShoe allowing for Q&A sessions with orchestra musicians, conductors, and guest artists, later published as a podcast episode–these and other such possibilities would immensely help with marketing, branding, and generating word-of-mouth buzz, both globally and locally (global buzz usually also results in local buzz–why, after all, do groups like the Chicago Symphony tour?), and at a relatively low cost compared to other marketing methods.
Selling downloadable content is a great start. Now let’s see some organizations pus the envelope even further.
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