Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Coulton's Blue Sunny Day -- by the numbers

Jonathan Coulton recently posted a blog entry where he breaks down some of the numbers surrounding his material. Now this is significant for several reasons. I've written about Coulton before, and in many ways I think he presents a practical approach to having a successful music career in this post-record label era.
The statistics he cites are quite interesting (and I highly recommend reading the entire post). According to Coulton,
I posted [Blue Sunny Day] to the blog on 3/16, and twittered about it with a link to the blog post on 3/17. I have about 5,000 blog subscribers and about 23,000 Twitter followers.
On 3/16 the blog post received 740 unique views, on 3/17 it received 1,942.
As of today, the original blog post has received 4,313 unique views: 2,518 direct, 1,721 from twitter, 788 from Google, 209 from FaceBook, and then some more smaller sources.
Worst case scenario (every unique view = one free download), the ratio of paying customers to freeloaders comes to about 13.4%
And yet,
The eight-day period since the song was first posted boasts a 40% uptick in digital sales in my store compared with the eight days prior to that…

So then extrapolate what happened with this song across my entire catalog, across all the things sold that make up my income, across the past and present and future, across all the Internet radio stations and file sharing networks and FaceBook pages and Twitter posts and the whole wild and woolly Internet - you will never know HOW it works, but I can tell you that for me it does.

BTW - here's Jonathan Coulton performing his song "Blue Sunny Day, " courtesy of part of the wild and woolly Internet.

Here are the important take-aways from this.
1) Jonathan Coulton doesn't look at the non-paying downloads as lost sales. Mark that thought, because that's what the RIAA doesn't get. They assume that every unpaid download is a lost sale, which is how they arrive at their claim that they're losing millions. But this completely ignores a very basic human behavior (that I've commented on in the RIAA vs. Sam's Club). That is, the lower the price, the more likely someone is to take a chance on it. I’ll try something for free that I won’t necessarily pay money for. One hundred people each taking a free sample meatball does not represent one hundred lost sales of packaged meatballs.
2) Coulton recognizes that what's important isn't the sale of the unit (in this case the song download), but
how that unit improves his overall income. Many artists are beginning to see that the downloadable song has little perceived value to the consumer ($0.99, tops) -- just like a flyer or a brochure.
And just like those non-valued pieces of paper, the song can serve a different function. It can help publicize the artist, increasing interest in their output, driving bigger audiences to the live shows, and more merchandise being sold.
Again, look at the record labels. They're still trying to lock down everything so that they can dole it back out for a price. That's pretty short-term. Because while they're failing at their task, the world's moving on.
There's a very healthy and growing indie music scene that's taken a different tack with their fans. Rather than trying to sue their fans into oblivion, they're sharing their music and reaping the benefits. And an increasing number of these artists (like Jonathan Coulton) are doing fine without a record label.
So Coulton’s taking the long view – and for him it’s paying off (figuratively and literally).
I appreciate Jonathan Coulton sharing some of the stats surrounding his music. Anyone thinking about becoming a musician should be paying attention. Come to think of it, so should the RIAA.
- Ralph

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