Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Payment, made palatable

I just paid money for music, for the first time in quite some time. It cost me £4.99 per month and gave me access to a huge array of songs, playable at my discretion.

For those who arent familiar with this, I'm talking about Spotify. Spotify is a music service which provides on demand songs for a monthly subscription. Right now I'm enjoying a little Snow Patrol, later I plan on finding some songs by The Mountain Goats which I havent heard before.

Until this moment I honestly can't remember the last time I bought any music. I've been entirely dependent on the radio, mostly online radio stations. Music is simply too expensive to be appealing to me, and as such I refuse to buy it, even if its by a musician I like. Online stations in particular mean I have choice of music styles even if I dont have access to specific songs.

However, the cost has now reached a level at which I'm willing to pay, not just once, but probably monthly. Finally the music industry has won me back.

Over the last few years there has been an aggressive campaign, mostly conducted in Courts and through Governmental lobbying, to attack the community of "pirates". Most notably the Torrent community, which distributes files on a peer to peer network. Indeed Pirate Bay, one of the largest hosters of Torrents, has, today, moved over to a new hosting service which is run by The Pirate Party, placing themselves effectively beyond the reach of the law for the time being.

In my experience there are three main types of material being 'stolen':
Computer games
Music
Films
Until recently, I would not pay for any of these. The price is too high, the quality is too variable, and increasingly, particularly in the case of games, the distributors put barriers in my way. Ubisoft's recent forays into DRM being the worst. Actively denying me a service which I'm now willing to pay for, unless I meet their arbitary criteria.

So where are we now? I'll pay for two of the above products, music and games. Music through Spotify, and games through a service called Steam.

Both of these services offer me an alternative way of getting a product which I wasnt willing to pay for previously. Steam is particularly interesting, as they provide regular discounts on many of their games of as much as 75%, meaning I rarely pay full price for a game. Games are also mobile and can be downloaded anywhere I choose, adding substantial amounts of convenience.

So, why am I talking about what is essentially, a pet peeve?

Because I think it provides a set of useful case studies for how online behaviour can be altered by changing the barriers to entry. Both the services which have got me back into paying for things have low barriers to entry (quick sign up, register your card details, point and click), and they offer me substantially more convenience that I was offered before.

We live in a world where convenience is not just appreciated, it is expected. It is simply not acceptable to users to have any barrier. People have blanched at Facebook's recent privacy issues, but I'm willing to bet the majority are still clicking on the ubiquitous Facebook Connect logo.

I should say as well, that both these services were recommended to me by other people. I didnt seen them out, they created advocates of their users and so I joined what I percieve to be a community of users. I very much doubt Sony has quite so many advocates as does Spotify, which I will now be enthusiastically recommending to others.

As we seek out audiences and advocates for the issues we are trying to promote we have to keep firmly in mind that people will pay, in fact they'll pay quite a lot, to have something which is convenient. What they won't pay for, or indeed engage with, are services which are inconvenient, or which place barriers in their way.

Campaigners have to keep in mind that in order to have a successful online campaign they need two things, a real (I cant stress this enough) cause constructed around a strong central message, and an easily accessed method of engagement.

The music, film and gaming industries wouldnt do badly to keep it in mind too.
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