Music on a Stick
American progressive rock band, Mars Volta is the latest music act to give its fans more choice when it comes to how they consume their music.
The band’s latest album, The Bedlam in Goliath was stored on a USB drive designed like a Ouija board planchette. At the cost of $30, the USB drive contains a digital-rights-management-free version of the album with extra downloadable content, such as wallpapers and bonus tracks available on the 29th of each month.
Aimed at more hardcore fans, the album follows a number of artists who have already released content on USB sticks including Ringo Starr and Matchbox Twenty. Both acts have enjoyed success with their releases with the USB sticks containing Starr’s album, Liverpool 8 accounting for one in three of total sales.
According to Matchbox Twenty’s manager, Michael Lippman, "tens of thousands of the band’s album, Exile on Mainstream - which also contained video, behind the scenes footage and pictures - have been sold.
"USB is going to be the future," said Lippman. "You don’t have to download it on a computer, you put it in and it comes up, (and) there’s plenty of room to add additional material."
But digital media research company, Entertainment Media Research (EMR), remains unconvinced that USB drives will eventually replace CDs as the choice of the consumer.
"The CD will eventually make room for another more reliable format, but whether it’s a USB I don’t know, although it’s likely to be some kind of silicone based memory. Personally I think a format change will happen in about 2-3 years," said Peter Ruppert, founder of EMR.
"Consumer adoption rates of hardware determine the software/consumption format and migration curve. One of the major reasons DAB has failed thus far is that motor manufacturers never introduced it as standard technology in new vehicles.
"There are three constituent elements within a CD - the music, the imagery and the notion that the physical entity is a master copy. For these reasons consumers continue to maintain a strong affection for the CD compared to the digital format which is perceived as purely functional and hence less valuable. Whether USB or some other functional / miniaturized technology can bridge that emotional gap is open to question," he continued.
Putting an album on a USB drive is much pricier than on a CD. The cost of producing a USB drive can cost anything from $5 per unit to $17. This in part, is due to the fact that USB drives are much more expensive than CDs and also because artists are not placing bulk orders.
Universal Music Group the label behind the Mars Volta release does not expect to profit from the 2,000 USB units produced for the album and sees the release as a method of building brand loyalty than as a source of revenue.
Cameo Calson, Universal senior vice president of digital business development said: "It’s not for everybody. It’s for the hardcore fan that wants tons of pictures, who really wants something more and the opportunity to get new stuff every month."
All Access, the company behind the USB release of Matchbox Twenty, Ringo Starr and the Mar Volta albums has recently signed deals to make USB bracelets for artists on the books of EMI, Warner Music Group as well as Universal Music group. The company believes that the release could help address the music piracy issue.
"The selling point to the labels is a really good one — it’s a marriage between merchandise and music so that people will at least buy it instead of stealing it because they want the merchandise," said All Access CEO, Chris Guggenheim. "It’s the only for-sure non-stolen product."
According to James Stevens, an IP expert at law firm, Pinsent Masons, the music industry has already made some strides to address the piracy problem.
"The music industry tends to come up against copyright infringement issues before the film and videogame industries because of the smaller size of music files, which means that content can be downloaded and shared more easily," said Stevens.
"Subscription models - based on the concept of bundling music with other services or devices such as an ISP subscription and advertising-supported music services offer consumers free access to streamed or downloaded music while artists and record companies take a cut of the advertising revenues.
Radiohead’s decision to make their new album available for whatever price the customer wished to pay was its response to online piracy, offering a bona fide alternative to illegal sites and cutting out the "middle man" that is the record label."