A Great Question from @ZoeCello: Should Digital Retailers Own the Artist’s Fan Data?

I want my data and in 2012 I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t own it. It seems like everyone has it, and exploits it…everyone but the creators providing the content that services are built on. I wish I could make this demand: stream my music, but in exchange give me my listener data. But the law doesn’t give me that power. The law only demands I be paid in money, which at this point in my career is not as valuable as information. I’d rather be paid in data.

Zoë Keating, What I Want From Internet Radio

Zoë Keating has raised a number of interesting points in a recent blog post about digital music services and one of them caught my eye–why is it that artists can’t get in the loop with the fans who buy or listen to their music?  When artists spend significant amounts of time and money trying to drive fans to purchase from iTunes or listen to their music on Pandora, Spotify or YouTube, why can’t these same artists connect with their fans who happen upon a track on a digital retailer?  (I may use “digital retailer” generically to include streaming services even though strictly speaking there’s no actual object being “retailed.”)

Or said from the point of view of property rights, why should the digital retailer own (or own exclusively) the artist’s property right in data relating to their works?  Since it is data created by the sale or transmission of the artist’s work for which the artist has spent time and effort to make valuable, why should that value accrue soley to the digital retailer?

As Zoë Keating says: “I want my data and in 2012 I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t own it. It seems like everyone has it, and exploits it…everyone but the creators providing the content that services are built on.”  That’s my emphasis, but I think that she sums up the problem very concisely.  (There’s a lot more to her post that you should read, but I’m going to focus on this one issue.)

The Land Grab for Fan Data

The main reason, of course, is that the digital retailer doesn’t want to share that information with anyone because it’s valuable.  I’m not talking about getting information about how many people in zip code 90210 bought your track.  I mean who bought it.

The retailer will no doubt say that simply handing over this information without the consent of the consumer would violate various privacy laws.  Yes, that’s probably true and also a very convenient dodge.  What I do not think would violate privacy laws would be if the retailer offered the fan a meaningful chance to sign up for the artist’s mailing list at the point of purchase or at the time of listening.

For example, if you are listening to Zoë Keating on Pandora, you are taken to a page that says “Frozen Angels” from “One Cello X 16: Natoma”.  You can “Share” or “Buy”.   If you click on the album page it’s similar stuff.

Same record on iTunes, you get “Artist Quick Links” which is all Apple-facing stuff:  “copy link” means the iTunes link, alerts are for iTunes, tell a friend let’s you send a link to iTunes, and so on.  And of course, you can share it on Facebook or share it on Twitter.

This is not just the template for an indie artist–the current AC/DC catalog promotion is essentially identical.

So why is this the case?

Sharing is Caring

What is so difficult about having another button–one that said “Artist Website” or “Artist Fan List” and either put a link to the artist website (which could be part of the track metadata) or a link to a signup for the artist’s mailing list.

The point of this, by the way, is for the artist to be able to capture the benefit of some of the traffic that they drive to Pandora, YouTube or to iTunes.  Sure, these big services can look down their noses at the indie artist, but how difficult would it be to implement?  They should welcome the opportunity to support the artists whose work profits them–particularly Spotify who pays jack in royalties and YouTube who spends as much time finding ways to screw artists as they do creating impossibly screwy royalty systems also designed to screw artists in ways that no old boss ever had the brass to attempt.

So we are not talking about a link to something that would drive traffic back to the retailer, or find another way to keep the artist’s fan on the Amazon site.  If you don’t like Zoë Keating, how about a nice salami sandwich?  Would you like fries with that?

No–having these sign up buttons would not be spamming the fan and would truly be sharing at least the most important data about the fan for the artist.  How to stay in touch.

I really don’t see the harm in this and I see tremendous benefit in affording artist and fan a chance to connect.  All at the fan’s choice.  Indie artists have a hard time getting any leverage over these retailers to negotiate better terms.  If we stick together, maybe one of them will do the right thing.

Since Pandora is asking for ever greater financial concessions from artists, maybe artists could ask Pandora for a non-monetary benefit of great value to the artist.  It would be help Pandora restore their tarnished image if they took the first step down this path.

If you agree, you can Tweet them @pandora_radio.