Earlier this week Universal Music released some initial results from its experiment in tapping its deep archives to measure Long Tail demand for older music (European music, in this case). Unlike most traditional backcatalog re-release efforts, which lead with CDs, Universal made these tracks available only as downloads to keep the costs as low as possible. The aim was to go further down the tail than the economics of physical media and traditional retail would allow, which makes a lot of sense.
The Long Tail equation is simple: 1) The lower the cost of distribution, the more you can economically offer without having to predict demand. 2) The more you can offer, the greater the chance that you will be able to tap latent demand for minority tastes that was unreachable through traditional retail. 3) aggregate enough minority taste, and you'll often find get a big new market.
The key here is that the digital download market is now big enough to make digital-only music distribution a viable approach. Clearly that market is only going to get bigger, so I'd expect many other music labels to follow this approach (as they're already doing with their digital-only labels for new releases of smaller bands, an effort that was led by Warner's Cordless "elabel" and Universal's UMe)
The music released in Universal's European backcatalog experiment stretches back three decades, including tracks from the 1960s, such as Brigitte Bardot’s interpretation of the Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg hit, Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus.
Here's are some excerpts from the company's press release. I've got a call in to the head of the program and will update with more details when I've spoken to him.
"Online music fans have downloaded more than 250,000 tracks of previously out-of-print recordings by European artists since the launch of Universal Music’s pioneering digital catalogue reissue programme earlier this year....
Universal Music Group International launched its download-only reissue programme in February, as the first step in a multi-year drive to reinstate more than 100,000 European deleted recordings. The initial offering comprised more than 3,000 out-of-print tracks from the company’s vaults in the U.K., France and Germany. They were made available through online music services in 20 countries, mostly in Europe.
Overall, these results lend weight to author Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail theory. In his recently published book of that name, Anderson contends that given the growing choice and diversity of music that is legitimately available through the Internet consumers will be increasingly drawn to recordings beyond current hits. In this scenario, the total sales of this repertoire (the long tail) can match or exceed those of the hits.
The second batch of deep catalogue reissues is due online in late November, and will include music by Maurice Chevalier, the Christians, the Frames, the Max Greger Orchestra, Mory Kante, Peter Kraus, Lulu, Baaba Maal, Robert Miles, The Orb, Henri Salvador, Savoy Brown and Charles Trenet, among many others. In addition, Decca Records will be reinstating more than 400 out-of-print classical albums.
Olivier Robert-Murphy, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Universal Music Group International, said, "It’s easy for our consumers online to find and download current artists and current hits, but through this deep catalogue reissue programme, we are now able to respond to and quantify the appetite for more eclectic, diverse recordings from the past. It’s clear that this is a ‘tail’ worth chasing."
MOST POPULAR ARTISTS BY TRACK
- Noir Desir
- Chris de Burgh
- Eddie & the Hot Rods
- Del Amitri
MOST POPULAR TRACKS
- Gun, Word Up
- Eddie & the Hot Rods, Do Anything You Wanna Do
- Brigitte Bardot, Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus
- Freak Power, Turn On Tune In Cop Out
- Cast, Guiding Star
MOST POPULAR ALBUMS
- Big Country, Steeltown
- Fairport Convention, Meet On The Ledge
- Jacques Brel, Ballades et Mots D’Amour
- Freak Power, Drive-Thru Booty
- Nana Mouskouri, Les Plus Beaux Noels du Monde