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Digital Release Date Dilemmas

This guest post comes from Clyde Smith  who recently celebrated both his 50th birthday and the 5th anniversary of the founding of ProHipHop: Business News. He also publishes Hip Hop Press: Releases and has slowly begun blogging at Cultural Research: Library Innovation Blog. .

image from www.uis.edu The move to digital album releases has raised some problems for me related to release dates.

I feel the initial release is whenever a complete copy of the album is released, whether a digital download, CD, USB stick or whatever.  But the varied sources I use to track new releases aren't keeping up well with new indie releases probably because a lot of smaller indies are putting out digital downloads but not getting them listed as album releases till the hard copy CD comes out, sometimes as much as 6 months later.

Undermining Their Own Marketing

Since I'm not trying to be first with things anymore and am mostly documenting albums around the time they're released, this leaves me with a dilemma because I don't post anything about an album that's already been out for months unless something big happens beyond a physical release of what was previously a download.

Now that has to do with how I'm working but there's a larger issue here, people are undermining their own marketing, to some degree, because an album release is news while a CD release 6 months after a digital download release is not.  So if people are only spreading the word beyond insider and local circles when the CD comes out, there's a good chance they're missing out on a variety of publicity opportunities.

On the other hand, I can see releasing the digital download to gauge interest and then following with a CD release but that kind of undermines those fans who actually want CD's but have already bought the inferior quality digital download.  And despite what you heard, lots of people are still buying CD's, just not as many as before.

Quick math lesson, less does not equal zero (until it does!).

This problem typically goes away once an act gets to a certain level of the game, so maybe it's not a that big a deal, but it's definitely a problem for ProHipHop and many artists could have gotten a post that have not and will not because of playing games with release dates.

Given the number of artists and pr folks that contact me everyday trying to get attention for some newcomer or old timer that nobody's heard of outside their hood, I'd say it's a problem for some of them as well.

Update:

This situation also reveals how listing services are not keeping up and suggests new marketing tactics based on the increasingly diverse and often scattershot approaches folks are now using to market albums.

For example, one resource I use to keep up is Amazon's Bestsellers in Rap & Hip-Hop which almost always has upcoming releases that are hot in terms of web sales. But Amazon treats MP3's as a totally separate category from Music, so that doesn't help with the transition to earlier digital releases.

But if you go to the MP3 equivalent, MP3 Albums: Bestsellers in Rap & Hip-Hop, there are no future releases that I can see, which I assume is because they don't have presales of MP3 albums. To make matters worse, it's not really albums, they mix singles in there as well. So you have Lil Wayne singles that are out but not his upcoming album which has been listed in Amazon CD bestsellers for months cause people have been preordering that ever since Amazon listed the CD sometime last year.

If you click on the "New & Future Releases" and then go to that category's Hot New Releases in Rap & Hip-Hop under MP3 Albums, you see a higher percentage of albums but you also see singles mixed in and there are no future releases that I can find.

This means that after at least a few years of having the most complete and accurate listing of new hip hop releases, not only are my old tools insufficient, I can now no longer claim that title because I'm not keeping up with albums as they become digitally available . And since I haven't been checking for new services along those lines, I don't really know how good the competition is these days or who is the real competition for that role.

In case you were familiar with other site lists, some did have more releases listed but, by the time the albums actually come out, those lists were always incredibly inaccurate because albums had been pushed back or people were gaming the lists by repeatedly getting an album listed after it had already been out for awhile.

This raises all sorts of interesting questions and possibilities for people marketing albums.

For example, there's an opportunity here for people releasing MP3 albums to stick out by going ahead and setting things up at outlets like Amazon, which you can do because I've seen plenty of examples, and making sure those releases are listed in new and upcoming album announcement sites.

I've also noticed that a surprising number of CD listings on Amazon don't link over to MP3 albums and sometimes you'll see cover art on one and no art on the other. That suggests that folks have different teams working on such listings when those roles should now clearly be integrated. That's another way to step up and distinguish yourself as well as making things easier for customers to buy what they want, which I'd say is kind of important!

This situation may also reveal opportunities for people tracking and writing about upcoming digital releases. It's certainly clear that album sales have shifted emphasis over the last year to the degree that I will have to start figuring out who's doing what if I want to keep my new rap albums reports worth checking for.

A more personal sign of how things have changed has to do with how I categorize news. I started ProHipHop a little over 5 years ago and I had a Digital Music category soon after launching because MP3's were not the norm in retail sales and many questions were up in the air about that transition. That category's been gone for awhile because, somewhere between now and then, digital music became part of the commercial norm, something that p2p filesharing set the stage for. But, despite the ongoing drop in CD sales, it's only been in the last year or so that things have shifted enough that I need to add digital releases to my album reports.

I am definitely behind in that regard, partly because I only started adding iTunes links in my blog posts sometime in the second half of 2009. If I did more with singles, all this would have happened sooner but, in terms of online retail and album sales, it's only been in that last year that things had shifted enough to require that decision.

I do get notices about iTunes releases, though rarely about Amazon MP3 releases, which suggests some shortsightedness on whoever's handling digital releases at a wide range of labels, big and small. So I'll be paying more attention to those announcements in the future and gradually getting my album reports up to date with actual consumer behavior while also noticing the gaps that continue to offer unexploited opportunities.

You can contact Clyde Smith @ hiphoppress(at)netweed(dot)com.


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