The Music Business Turns To Newspapers

One of my readers sent me an email over the weekend to say that on page E-17 of The Sunday Los Angeles Times there was an ad for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers new album “Mojo”.

According to my reader, a free download of “Mojo” was included with each concert ticket purchased when the album debuts today.

This isn’t the first time artists have turned to print to fill seats.

Remember when Prince had one of his CDs stuffed into the pages of The Mail on Sunday in a massive giveaway designed to – well, sell out his concerts?

It worked.

What it didn’t do was to get newspaper readers to buy the CD because they didn’t have to. And Prince apparently didn’t care if they did or not – he just wanted them to come see him perform live.

There have been a lot of cockamamie schemes lately to fix what ails the music industry but little notice has been given to the concert touring business which is also on the skids.

How bad are things?

Live Nation, for example, wiped out its service fee for June to find a way to make concerts more affordable to screwed-over consumers. That damn “service fee” and other associated charges is what sticks in the craw of young music fans, but you can’t get Live Nation to eliminate them for good.

That’s their business – excessive fees.

What does it say about a music industry that can’t sell CDs, doesn’t want to allow consumers to cherry pick tunes even if they pay for them and refuses to fuel the viral growth of music by allowing file sharing?

How about – dead business.

Now – and sit down for this – Tom Petty and Live Nation are turning to Tribune, the publishing and TV station owner currently in bankruptcy to help them sell concert tickets.

You see, giving away free downloads is an extra when the end game is actually selling out the venue.

What does that say about the value of music?

I’ve long said that the financial value of music is easy to compute. Just take 99 cents for a legal download as the high and zero as in free file sharing for the low and you’ll find the price at about a nickel – taking into account the fact that most people steal music rather than buy it.

So imagine this.

Petty turns to a newspaper company and says build me a “first-of-its-kind web hub designed to give their fans access to unique content, music, concert tickets and merchandise in select markets across the country. Visitors to the site can also play an exclusive "Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers" trivia game with a chance to win two front-row seats to the band's Oct. 1 show at the Hollywood Bowl, including airfare and hotel accommodations in Los Angeles”.

I’m quoting from the official Tribune news release.

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with trying new things. The only problem is that newspapers and websites are not new things.

Giving free downloads away in exchange for buying concert tickets is lowering the price of music below zero.

It is saying that the record is the loss leader and the concert event is the business – even if it is becoming a sluggish business.

Recently I took a meeting with the manager of an aspiring country artist and the manager wanted my help on planning a social networking strategy. You might be interested in my advice.

I said, if you are prepping your artist to be a singer with a planned singing career then both of you will be broke.

In today’s world music appears to be an entrĂ©e to something else – touring for those acts big enough, acting, a reality show – something else.

It reminds me of the old Italians who used to say to their aspiring children, “get a degree and become a teacher just to be safe”.

We see all this bad news about the music industry – the foolishness of the big four record labels.

Then we read about the genius of the Live Nation merger which in reality looks to me to be a bum deal five to ten years down the line when some of their artist contracts expire.

What is fast becoming apparent is that the concert business – even as a monopoly – is not a business at all if there isn’t a vibrant record business.

Now, you’re probably expecting me to say – let’s revive the record business and rebuild live entertainment.

Nope. I’m not going to say it.

The consumer is telling you what they want.

Instant access to music – free music to sample and decide. They want music on their mobile handheld devices. It is apparent to me that they want to see live performances but don’t want to have their wallets lifted to do so.

They are going to embrace the iPad, expect to see and hear their favorites and are relying much less on voice tracked radio to help them decide what they like.

In fact, they are telling us they want music discovery.

And they want it on their favorite Internet mobile devices, in the car and in person for the right price.

The labels and last remaining live concert companies are going in the opposite direction – in reverse of the inevitable.

With all due respect to Tribune, when Tom Petty has to turn to a newspaper company to sell tickets …

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