Friday, February 17

Sharing Nonsense: Warner Music Group

Unlike many, I don't have anything against Warner Music Group (WMG). They have produced scores of solid albums from talented artists on their label and several dozen independent labels for more than 200 years if you trace it back to Chappell & Co. It's the third largest music publishing business in the world.

However, it is kind of remarkable that it has been able to accomplish as much as it has, given that the company is also its own worst enemy. Last fiscal year, it reported a net loss of $205 million.

The company likes to say the loss is associated with its hard work to make the transition to the digital music industry. But the truth is that the company isn't trying to transition to digital. WMG is trying to make the digital music industry transition to it.

Some might even say it is the cornerstone of its current business vision. It has long been regarded as having views that make other SOPA and PIPA supporters look reasonable. In fact, it is the most aggressive label in removing content on YouTube. And now, it seems to be arbitrarily enacting a model that cost EMI a contract with OK Go last year.

Warner Music Group in action. Disabling video embeds. 

As some people know, we run a little side project called Liquid [Hip]. It's a site that reviews all sorts of things, with music accounting for about 50 percent of the content. Yesterday, we reviewed an alternative rock/metal band called Janus. They're signed by Realid (pronounced Reality with a D), which happens to be owned by WMG.

Whenever we can, we try to include video embeds of bands to give readers an idea of what we hear. For Janus, we chose the new lyrical video Stains, which is the advance single off their new album due out in March. We think if the album is indicative of the single, it will catapult the band to the next level.

Since embedding was enabled, we thought it best represented the sound while showcasing the single. After the first hour, however, embedding wasn't disabled but the playback was replaced with a message: This video contains content from WMG, who has blocked it from display on this website. Watch it on YouTube. The message is inaccurate. It really means any website.



That's fine with me. We picked up a replacement video. Unfortunately, it doesn't represent as strong, doesn't link back to the artist's channel, and caused some people to send emails asking us about it.

It makes sense that they would. For the first hour or so, the review was read by several hundred people and shared by a few dozen. All that went cold after the lockdown. And it never came back for the band.

To their credit, Janus tried to find a solution because they wanted the lyrical video up too. They even said so on our Facebook page.

They even included a link to the lyrical video; the same video. The image capture shows how that turned out. Janus couldn't share its own video, not even on Facebook.

Given the block was so extreme, we decided to cull through all of our old posts. Sure enough, every WMG video and every WMG indie label carried the same message. So we replaced all of them, even the one that we helped give life to: it had ten views when we shared it. It has 9,700 views today.

Personally, I don't care about the drop off of interest, other than how it affects the band. I don't care because when we first launched the review site for fun, we promised ourselves to never compromise on cool. Listen, don't listen. Read, don't read. Buy, don't buy. I couldn't give a shit about going viral.

We emphasize this fact with our tagline: we cover cool, not popular. Never once did we expect the site would hit 50,000 views in the course of a month. But that's still not how we measure success.

We measure success by giving exposure to what we think is cool (which is a higher bar than what we like). And when people who read the reviews thank us for introducing a new band or a label writes us a note to thank us for what we are doing or another review site follows our lead and asks us for links to a purchase site or a band likes a review not because it is easy but because it is hard, well, it feels worth it.

WMG, on the other hand, ought to give a shit about going viral. The more people exposed to the music, the more people are likely to buy the album. The more people exposed to the music, the more likely they are to become fans. And the more people exposed to the music, the more likely they will buy Stains, Nox Aeris, past albums, merchandise, and future albums even if we never review them again.

It's painfully clear the embed block is not about piracy. It's about shrinking the sales funnel for short-term control and, in some cases, attempting to elevate views on YouTube even if most people in the business know that the majority of video views are fueled by embed views.

A different digital strategy and policy could help people help WMG. 

All of this really isn't a big deal. I removed/replaced about ten WMG locked down videos (except the one above for purposes of illustration), even if it hurts WMG and related label artists because I refuse to carry their WMG content message on our site. I don't intend to put the videos back either.

What I would like to avoid is feeling forced to omit WMG and related indie label artists outright. So instead of boycotting WMG as some have done, I wrote a few ideas for the new owner, Len Balvatnik, to pass along to the fine folks at WMG who didn't respond to my inquiry about the video block.

• Always assume the first single is an investment in the album and let people share it.
• Be courteous to reviewers by disabling 'embedding' outright and not after the fact.
• Recognize that people who view embeds follow them to the band channel (you win).
• Add advertisements that run inside the embeds to increase potential revenue.
• Include an end title card with a direct link to the purchase site of your choice.
• Weigh the merit of publishing clips (in some cases) as opposed to full-length videos.

The question ought not to be about how to prevent people from sharing WMG content outside of its social media assets, but how WMG can maximize revenue because people want to share its content.

I appreciate the concern about piracy (although embedding a video in a review is a revenue generator and not a detractor). Piracy is something everyone ought to be concerned about. But companies such as yours need to remember that most people are happy to purchase music as opposed to pirating it.

Right now, most regulations WMG wants to implement as well as the overzealous WMG lockdown and blocking practices alienate people who are paying loyalists and does nothing to curb the appetite of real criminals. In fact, almost every practice currently employed by WMG alienates people, empowers pirates, and diminishes the fading respect people once had for the brand. Please try to do the right thing.
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