Staggered releasing is back in the news again following Taylor Swift’s decision to withhold the second promo track from her new ’1989’ album from UK fans only. The single ’Out of the Woods’ was made available for individual download on iTunes, unless of course you happened to live in the UK. As a UK citizen, the only way to get hold of said track was then to pre-order the whole new album.
Taylor Swift then added insult to injury by claiming that this was an effort to create ’a better experience for you, the fans’. Seriously? The UK fans alone singled out for a special experience!? One which was enforced in limiting fashion by the record company. This is obvious and blatant profiteering and anything but a ’service’ to the fans.
I still fail to see the appeal in ’pre-ordering’ digital content, you usually don’t get any tangible benefit, bar the occasional taster single. There are a number of tracks on iTunes which are ’Album Only’, meaning that you need to download every single track just to get your hands on the one you want. A case in point is Taylor Swift as per above, and another example is Annie Mac’s new ’Presents’ compilation, whose standout track is ’Rhymes’ by Hannah Wants and Chris Lorenzo. I already have the majority of tracks on the album, but to get my hands on this single, I am forced to buy a very large number of tracks for a second time!
The upshot of all of this is that most people will seek alternate means of getting their hands on new material from their favourite artists. In trying to control or limit access in any way, artists and record labels are undoubtedly encouraging piracy. For this very same reason, International artists like Beyoncé and Madonna know to release their output simultaneously to all territories, as a fan is still a fan regardless of their geographic origin, and they will want to get their hands on the new material immediately. If for some reason the album or single is not available in that region by legitimate means, the fans will use illicit means to gain access to what they want. Trying to withhold materials in any way, simply results in less revenues for the record label and the artist. Why anyone still engages in this policy is far beyond my level of comprehension - this very obviously promotes piracy and leads to diminished returns!
The same can be said about cinema releases which are now getting more and more closely aligned with their international release schedules, yet we still have the ignominy of Region Locking / Coding on DVDs and Blu-rays. Another case in point was a recent purchase of mine from Amazon - the latest concert / documentary from Swedish House Mafia ’Leave the World Behind’ which was listed as an All Region Blu-ray. Only when it arrived was it evident that the Blu-ray was region-locked to ’A’ (The Americas). I am slightly befuddled as to why a documentary would be region-locked? Swedish House Mafia surely have fans around the world? I am unsure which moron decided to region-lock this only Blu-ray version available - is this perhaps some gesture of a better experience for us UK fans again?
Finally onto Television, where weekly ratings very accurately demonstrate the typical decline in audience for even the most popular of shows. I am a huge fan of Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, NowTV and Crunchyroll. I love being able to hone in on a particular series and watch a whole season’s content in just a few concurrent viewings. For all media - ’currency’ that is to say immediacy of appeal, is relatively short lived. Hype is a fast dwindling comodity after all. This means that there is an optimal window of appeal for every show - where it can gain the maximum audience, and after which its appeal is significantly curtailed.
I often wonder at the lasting appeal of heavily serialised shows like say ’soap operas’ - which require a regular daily viewing versus the ’Netflixing’ of a series worth of content in just a couple of days or so. In terms of ratings, making every episode available at the same time means that viewers are far more likely to complete the course - i.e. there is less fallout. The longer a series continues for, the greater its propensity for decay. My only grumble is really that the UK as a region still has a much smaller library of content to access than our American cousins!
Television has thus defaulted to ’live-’ news, current affairs, sports and reality programs, while scripted content is considered best viewed in one fell swoop as it were. In all three cases - Music, Film and Television, staggering and limiting of content in any way results in an increase in piracy and diminished returns for the media owners. I still cannot fathom how some media owners are so poorly in tune with the reality of the global market - where an artist’s tweet goes around the world in milliseconds. How can they be so naive to not think that a fan in Ulan Bator does not want a new Taylor Swift single the moment it has been announced. There are still many column inches about how the music industry is still slowly dying, but let’s not forget that Vinyl, Cassettes and CDs were never region locked. Record companies started abusing fans by first over-pricing CDs, and now latterly region-locking, limiting and continuing to stagger releases.
As a music fan, I could (in fact still can where available) buy a Special Edition Japanese Import of a Record, Cassette or CD - that privilege is now being withheld from me with these newer formats. I say thank goodness for pioneers like Netflix and Spotify who have challenged the established order to bring us consumers what we want. These big traditional entertainment companies somehow still have not woken up to the modern world, and their profiteering ways are the biggest threat to their own livelihoods. Perhaps someone can also tell me why most Japanese releases of western albums include 1-3 different bonus tracks which we don’t get on our own local versions?