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Interview: Ali Partovi of iLike (Part One)

Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor
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Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ali Partovi, who is the CEO of iLike.  In this interview, Ali talks about the future he imagines for his company, pay-for-play business models, social discovery, and what’s working for artists on the site. 

(Read Part Two)

In a perfect world, where innovation isn’t stifled and prolonged by a room full of lawyers…

Q:  What does the future you’re trying to build for fans and artists look like?
 
ali_closeupAli Partovi:  In an ideal world, talented new artists should get discovered based on merit. And not just the mass-appeal stars: a talented artist with narrow appeal should be able to reach fans within a niche genre.  Fans want more diversity; they want the mass-appeal stuff, but they also want more variety that fits their tastes.

Growing up, the first medium that I developed a relationship with was radio, because it was free and it was the first personal electronic device that owned...

Now, arguably, for up-and-coming generations, the first medium they are exposed to is the Internet and possibly sites such as iLike.

Q:  How do you believe the way relational development towards a medium alters when the user is actively involved in the experience they create for themselves?

Ali Partovi:  Consumers have more influence not only on getting a “personalized” experience for themselves, but also impacting what gets “programmed” to other people with similar tastes.  A social network is a very natural mechanism for this: if I discover a new artist that I love, I have a natural desire to share that with my friends on Facebook.  This is exactly what iLike facilitates, providing tools for me to send that music to the friends who have similar tastes to my own.  In addition, the consumer is also creating “new content” in the form of commentary. Seeing what normal people (especially your friends) have to say about a song is just as much part of the experience as hearing the music.

Mass broad-casted radio enables a generalization of interests and assumed 'known artists’ between crowds of people.  Many of us have listened to the same music simply because there wasn’t enough airtime on radio stations to give everyone exactly what they wanted.

Therefore, we had to all agree on listening to music that everyone ‘kind of wanted.’

Whereas discovery sites, such as iLike, are fueled by recommendation engines that specialize interests and expose the individual to potentially 'unknown artists.'  Now, airtime is infinite and everyone can listen to different variations of music patterns and find something that they ‘really want.’

Essentially, moving from 'broad-casted culture' offline to a 'narrow-casted culture' online.

Q:  What does this potentially change about the concept of popular music being considered as ‘the sociocultural superglue of the masses?’

Ali Partovi:  There will always be superstars.  In fact, the internet can create even bigger stars than traditional broadcast media.  What will be harder is trying to transform someone with marginal talent into a superstar, or to force the content you own down other people’s throats. But human nature thrives on shared experiences, and great talent will spread faster and wider than ever on the backs of people sharing it.

For a really long time the music industry has had the mindset that they would pay money to be on Clear Channel or MTV.  The modern day equivalent to this might be where sites like Jango and Grooveshark have recently and openly embraced the model of ‘pay for airplay.’

Q:  What are your thoughts on the ‘pay for airplay’ business model and what implications might arise for the services that implement it?
 
Ali Partovi:  I’ve actually always been a fan of “pay-for-play” as long as there are two things: first, disclosure so that the consumer knows what’s editorially selected and what’s not, and second, a feedback loop so that it gets more and more expensive to promote something that nobody seems to like (and cheaper to promote something that everything seems to like).  This is exactly how Google Adwords works.  At iLike, we’ve implemented a self-service model where tons of artists, labels, and promoters, are now paying us to promote their new releases and their local events.

The CD-Release Complex is a term I’ve used previously to describe the symbiotic relationship between the fans and the corporate institutions they relied upon to deliver new music.  It is the backbone of the modern Recording Industry, one built around the idea that music fans discover music through the same mediums that records labels use to promote music.
 
However, throughout the mechanization of this industry, what used to be “extensions of fan” undoubtedly transformed into “extensions of man.”  Meaning that, the mediums themselves, such as broadcast radio, have progressively become less beneficial to music fans and no longer operate within their best interest.

Q:  How does iLike model itself as an “extension of fan” and maintain a symbiotic relationship that benefits everyone involved?

Ali Partovi: The consumer is king. The only way to succeed on the Internet is to put the fans’ interests first. We’ve aimed to build a service that represents the interests of consumers, artists, and labels.  And at the end of the day, the labels or artists who succeed on iLike and elsewhere on the internet will be the ones that put the fans’ interests first.  For example, we let the artist (or label) choose whether to make their music available as a free MP3, a free stream, a 90-sec stream, a 30-sec stream, or not at all.  The artist/label gets 100% control of how their music is used, and the consumer tends to reward the ones who are most fan-friendly.  We consistently see that artists who make their music available as full-song streams sell more downloads and more tickets than those who restrict it to 30-sec samples. As I like to put it, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Read Part Two

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