Saturday, February 9, 2008

The music promotion that keeps on giving

by Eric Benderoff

As I write this, I’m listening to a live recording from a favorite band only available to a few thousand people. Recorded at several venues in the U.S. during a fall tour, the 12 songs on the New Pornographers’ "Live from the Future" bonus album are a treat for any fan who paid a little extra for the group’s “Challengers” CD before the August release.

That includes me, and the live recording is a great example of how record labels and artists are using novel promotions to try and boost music sales. It’s no secret the business continues to struggle in the digital era, as music sales slipped 14 percent in 2007.

I wrote about some of those promotions in June, including the "Buy Early, Get Now" deal offered by Matador Records, the New Pornographers’ label. (That's the band on the top of the post.) I’m following up now because I just downloaded the “live” recording, released six months after the “Challengers” album dropped.

It was Matador’s fourth "Buy Early" program — No. 5 is in the works, for the upcoming Stephen Malkmus album, due in March—and it offers a real bang for the buck.

Here’s what I got for an extra $5 when I pre-ordered the "Challenger’s" CD from my local record store:

—A streaming version of the album I could listen to before it was released. That’s the "get now" part of the deal.

—Ten extra tracks—B-sides, alternate versions and even two Christmas songs. These were released periodically over several months after "Challengers" was released.

—The 12-song "Live from the Future" recording.

—Music videos and still pictures of the band from the road.

—A box of specially labeled CDs, empty discs awaiting the content to burn as the extras were delivered digitally. (One disc for the B-sides, one for the live recording and one for the videos and pictures.)

The content is still coming. I will be getting another video, perhaps as soon as next week, said Patrick Amory, Matador’s general manager.

He called the $5 deal a "definite success. We sold approximately 7,500 copies of the ‘Buy Early Get Now’ promotion for Challengers." As of last week, the label had sold more than 80,500 copies of “Challengers,” so only a small percentage of fans got the extra goodies.

Much was written about Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want scheme for its recent "In Rainbows" release—now sold for a fixed price at record stores and online at iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store—but Matador Records' approach is also worthy of note. The extras for the New Pornographers’ “Challengers” release is a rich package of music and well worth the small fee.

Would you pay an extra $5 today for a live album in six months (plus another album’s worth of bonus tracks) from one of your favorite bands? I’d sign up for a similar promotion again in a snap.

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