Purple Innovation

22 Jul 2007|Lee Shupp

I was passing through Heathrow Airport in London last week, and I noticed that Prince has created yet another controversy, this time by striking a deal to include his new CD in the Sunday edition of the London Daily Mail newspaper. Record stores are rioting, fuming that this CD giveaway will undercut sales. Sony, the Purple One’s record label, is so livid that they are refusing to stock his CD in record stores in England. Prince is right, Sony is wrong, and here’s why:

Prince understands that he is building a brand with multiple revenue streams rather than selling a CD “product.” He is savvy enough to know that people are obtaining his music in multiple ways, including buying them in record stores and downloading them for free on the Internet. He is smart enough to know that lots of people listening to his music is a very good thing, and will spark concert attendance, merchandise sales, and yes, CD sales too. He is an experienced marketer, with a history of experimenting with new distribution channels and revenue streams as the traditional business model in the music industry breaks down. He understands that Prince is a brand that must continually innovate to remain appealing to changing audiences. He learned this the hard way; he has gone from being the self-proclaimed “slave” of a traditional record deal to the “Emancipation” of owning and controlling the rights to his music.

Sony is wrong, and so are the record stores. The days of record labels controlling an artist’s “product” by maintaining a chokehold on distribution are gone, despite the oligopoly of the major labels. The Internet, digital music, and consumer’s desire to play music in multiple settings and formats has ended the old model forever. Even traditional channels have splintered; you can now buy CDs at Best Buy, Starbuck’s and myriad other retail spaces.

Prince’s decision to include his new CD with the Daily Mail is smart. And it’s creating controversy on this side of the Atlantic too: the New York Times ran a feature on him today that gives a great history of some of his past innovation. Bruce, you’d better listen to the Purple One!

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