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UK freelance journalist and author Sean McManus

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Prince's new website: Clicks hard in a funky place?

30 March 2009

Prince has just launched his new website, Lotusflow3r.com. He's had a few websites over the years - one was a club website, where subscribers were posted some exclusive CDs throughout the year; another was a virtual shop, but the music was all DRM-crippled, so there are lots of reports of people who aren't able to play the music they've bought any more.

The new site has a somewhat vague proposition: $77 buys you downloads of the new triple album (which is retailing for $12 in the US, price in the UK to be determined), plus a t-shirt and early news of forthcoming gigs. There are said to be videos too, but it's unlikely you can download them, and there's no indication of how often they'll be updated. I'm not convinced, to be honest. And I'm a massive Prince fan.

The biggest mistake, though, is that Prince has overestimated how important his website is to other people. He expects people to spend a lot of time playing with a tricksy interface just to hand over their money. If you want to register, you have to mouse over and click things until you hit a 60x30 pixel image which opens this:

Prince virtual website ticket

Aha! That looks like my ticket in. But what do I type into the boxes? There are no clues - you have to keep typing in things until you get it right. The answer is to close the ticket again, go and watch the video on the telly on the homepage, and then type in '1986' and 'Los Angeles'.

Why make people do that? Was it a fun experience? Not particularly. Did it make it easier to get to the real site content? Absolutely not.

If you're selling something, whether it's music or shoes, you've got to make it as easy as possible for people to buy. Just get them to bash in their contact details, their credit card details, and then let them get on with their lives. The content is supposed to be the entertainment. Not the interface.

(For more tips on creating successful websites, see my book Small Business Websites That Work).

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The Independent and indie music - free Mongrel album

09 March 2009

The Independent newspaper gave away the album "Better Than Heavy" by Mongrel on Saturday. It's billed as "A CD that makes history", the first time that a band has launched itself by distributing its debut album with a newspaper. The album itself is a hybrid of hip-hop and indie, and boasts 16 rappers on the track "Alphabet Assassins".

Mongrel CD and CD artwork

This development isn't quite as amazing as the Independent might have us believe. The group is made up from members of Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, and Reverend and the Makers. So the giveaway has a strong promotional hook inside the conventional record industry.

The model of distributing music for free with newspapers does threaten the conventional music industry. As the focus shifts towards the live experience, the value of recorded music is falling. But until newspapers start taking the risk of breaking genuinely new bands, that nobody has ever heard of, there will always be a place for the record label. A brave newspaper could take on the role of breaking new talent, but for now it's the name on the CD that sells the newspaper, and not the other way around.

(There's much more about the future of the music industry in my novel University of Death.)

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