There’s No Long Tail On we7; Surprised Or Not?
This is part two of my interview segment with Steve Purdham, who is the CEO of we7, an on-demand music streaming and radio service based out of the UK. In this section, Purdham talks about the nonexistence of the long tail on his service, the challenge of encouraging music activity over passivity, and why we shouldn't push fans to become more active participants in their cultural lives.
In an age where musicians are in need of the most active and engaged fans possible, do we really want fans to take the stance of "entertain me" towards their listening? Are we fools to think that it's ever been different?
Steve Purdham: I think you have summed it up in the question. It has always been this way – nothing has changed. Musicians do need the most active and engaged fans as possible, so too, there are fans who just want to be ‘entertained’. The engaged fans create the buzz. The engaged fans spread the word. Because of that, music gets onto the playlists and become part of the public consciousness.
The Internet doesn’t change that, it just adds scale and speed to the equation. This is why in giving everyone access to all music does not result in the Long tail happening. We have 6.5 m songs in the music catalogue, last week and consistent with all previous weeks 52% of music listened to on we7 came from 100 artists and only 22% of tracks in our catalogue get touched each month.
If a music track, artist, or album is not in the public consciousness, it does exist, so people don’t search for it – hence no long tail. [This is why] music marketing still has to be dragged into the 21st century for bands.
When overloaded with choice, are casual fans more likely to become increasingly passive participants in their cultural lives? Also, is it possible that the added passivity will carry over to the music that they consume?
Steve Purdham: Is more less? No. I don’t think so. However, I do believe that by its nature – that more music will be consumed. But that will not necessarily increase the amount active engagement beyond what currently is invoked in individuals. There is a big difference between music listening and music engagement.
The Internet definitely gives choice but we should not be surprised that decision paralysis kicks in. It’s a real phenomenon, but it kicks in at very small numbers rather than as a result of the scale of the Internet, which just amplifies the issue. Witness a small child’s reaction to given the choice of three candies and saying they can only have one or the guy who has put a dollar into a jukebox and has to make 5 choices or ask anyone to list 5 songs they want to listen to now.
What we have to realize is that in general we are primarily passive participants. That is why radio is the most common mechanism for listening to music. But we should not under estimate the power of music where a song or an artist are able to reach through that passive state, make the hairs on your neck rise and change your emotional mood and awareness in an instant.
We also have to understand the shift from passive to engaged happens as a result of a ‘bonding’ event; it has to do with mood, environment, sharing, events etc. It’s often the combination of these variables that imprint active behavior for a particular song or artist that will last for a long time.
How do we empower fans with simple, personal, and mobile music experiences while still pushing them to be active in their cultural lives and to support the creativity of the artists? Or shouldn't they be pushed?
Steve Purdham: We shouldn’t push. We should enable. We shouldn’t underestimate the capacity of the consumer to expand the overall cultural impact.
With the surplus of choice, has it driven most fans pursue the most choice-simplifying filters they can find? If fans aren't careful about the filters that they choose, is it possible their experience will be anything but diverse?
Steve Purdham: I think fans will choose what works for them and instinct will result in poor filters being quickly abandoned because the feeling will be it doesn’t get it right. Filters still have along way to go, going forward we will see more ‘filters’ which learn and we will have more fans who understand that there actions create different result. Good technology will always explore boundaries.
Is there enough income coming into music companies that they have the budgets to properly market themselves and raise awareness among fans or are their overheads preventing them from investing that money?
Steve Purdham: Excellent question, the way the industry is structured today there are too many people and organizations between the artist and the fan, which has the result of increasing the numbers of marginal businesses where the income is spread to thinly. It will shake out but most digital businesses are still heavily investment led businesses rather than profit led businesses. This will shake out over time as the models become more stable and scale eventually is allowed to take effect.