We’re going through another round of stressing over the mess we’ve got ourselves into with advertising supported social media, this time spurred by a twitter competitor that will charge you a yearly rate. I think readers of this blog know enough about networks to understand why that won’t work.
So it comes down again to the “advertise, buy, or run” decision, with each solution being suboptimal.
The one thing I don’t see much talk about in these discussions is the Bandcamp model. I’ve used Bandcamp for my Russian Apartments music project for a few years now, and it has been fantastic. It’s a little complex, but stick with me, i’s worth it.
Here’s the idea:
1. BandCamp streams all the albums I’ve produced for free on the site and allows album downloads. If I sell music there (e.g. make those downloads downloads someone has to pay me for), BandCamp gets a cut of that sale (15% for downloads, 10% for physical media), and that’s the end of the story — BandCamp and my interests are aligned, we’re both trying to get as many people to listen to, download and pay for my albums as possible.
2. If, like me, you give away albums for free, there’s a de minimus provision — over 200 copies of my albums can be downloaded per month from BandCamp for free. Once those 200 copies are exhausted, the price automatically switches to paid and we start revenue sharing, or I pony up about 3 cents a download for additional download credits
3. Streaming music from the site is always free (assuming you want that).
What this means for me is that I get a site that is free from ads that I can make as stark as I like, a service where I am unambiguously the customer, but which doesn’t force me to bet $50 a year or month on whether I will need it. In my years on Bandcamp, I think there were only four months where I had over 200 of my albums downloaded in a month, and these cases were quickly rectified — $30 in credits gets you another 100 downloads for your fans. (Please don’t make me groan by computing the bandwidth costs of delivering those downloads myself, the point of BandCamp is the superior experience around the discovery and downloading process…downloads are a proxy, in essence, of how much the site is worth to you).
I’d like to see more exploration of these models. Simple de minimus schemes like Google Drive and Dropbox have been around forever and are a start, but small tweaks to this model can make a big impact. While I distribute my own stuff free, Bandcamp’s solution is notable in that it has really made it possible for many artists to make enough money to pay for equipment and time off needed to pursue their craft, and with 85% of album proceeds going straight to the artist, it makes me feel good about buying music again. In other words, it aligns all the incentives up in a way that can build a vibrant community that encourages experimentation, but scales gracefully into a living for those who succeed. I could see this model being applied to everything from self-publishing, to video distribution, to learning management systems. Yes — it involves talking about money. But it certainly would beat much of the misalignment we see currently in everything from tumblr to YouTube to Twitter.