Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Decemberists Debut in Digital Only -- and Demonstrate Online's Eventual Dominance

EMI just experimented with releasing a critic's darling indie band's new album on digital only via iTunes -- with no physical CD release until one week later.  And, this initial download-only strategy "worked", selling 18,000 copies in its first week (and landing the album #14 on the charts).

The band?  The Decemberists.  And, the new album is "The Hazards of Love."  I have been streaming it all week via Rhapsody (I still love the subscription model of "all you can eat").  Check it out -- I like it ... like it a lot (and my two kids, aged 9 and 6, already are humming the melodies).  It marks a departure for the band -- grander, rougher, more ambitious.

But, back to the point of this post.  EMI's strategy and resulting initial success demonstrates the ever-growing power and importance of digital distribution.  This is not surprising of course -- physical CD sales will be eclipsed by digital sales in the not-too-distant future (3 years? 5 years?)  EMI's strategy also demonstrates and increasing willingness -- and need -- to experiment in order to optimize success.  

Eventually, I have always believed that the significantly enhanced consumer choice that digital distribution empowers will lead to new business models that will expand monetization by the content creators and holders, rather than cause the demise of content monetization.  Greater choices -- what you want, when you want it, and where you want it -- means more ways to reach the consumer and enhance the relationship of content to their lives.

And, that is good for The Decemberists and others who dare to do things differently ...