NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker recently lamented that the entertainment industry has exchanged analog dollars for digital dimes". Five years ago we sold as many CD's as possible for $15. Now the music industry hopes that a few consumers will give them 99 cents...or less.
But exceptions are beginning to emerge from a new musical middle class. Trent Reznor collected well over $1 million within days of a self-release by offering Nine Inch Nails fans everything from a $5 download to 2500 $300 limited edition sets that sold out in 48 hours. Radiohead topped the Amazon 2008 charts with the $5 version of an album they'd essentially first given away free. By listening to fans and earning their respect rather than demanding their attention (and sometimes suing them), some artists are finding new ways to encourage their fans to contribute.
The new model is even being applied successfully in the world of mainstream pop where the fan relationship often lasts only as long as the last hit single. Asian music entrepreneur J. Y. Park releases 3 song mini-albums of his artists as a souvenir" twice a year, but relies more on endorsements, touring and merchandise for income.
Capturing the dimes scattered across the digital landscape is still important. Downloads and ringtones, as well as, earnings from YouTube and imeem can provide some of the the income to fuel the new music business. But only by serving fans and adding value to that relationship can music begin to move from collecting dimes back to earning dollars again.