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Universal’s Vinyl Project Crowdfunding Announcement Met With Confusion And Webrage

Uvinyl-logoLast week Universal announced The Vinyl Project that will apparently be hosted or headquartered at their Uvinyl online vinyl store. Dubbed a "crowdfunding" approach, negative response came in two forms. Some people were upset with a list of albums that appeared to be considered for The Vinyl Project while others wondered why Universal needed fans to fund their releases. It all seemed a bit overblown in the manner we've grown accustomed to on the web.

On Monday news began to spread that Universal was planning to launch The Vinyl Project which was said to be an effort to "crowdfund" and release currently unavailable albums on vinyl.

This information was apparently posted at Uvinyl, Universal's online vinyl store, where those interested could sign up for future news. After signing up, respondents were taken to a related questionnaire posted on Uvinyl's Facebook page.

Depending on the source, a list of well-known albums that appeared to be candidates for the project was shown on the homepage (not sure if that was a separate page because all links now go to Uvinyl's homepage) or in the questionnaire.

In any case, some people apparently got upset at the list, I'm still not quite sure why, and Universal pulled it and then apologized.

Y U No Mean What I Mean When I Say "Crowdfunding"?

"Big corporation makes misstep, pulls info, apologizes" is a pretty common thing but there was another concern raised due to the use of the term "crowdfunding."

A variety of people seem disturbed by the fact that Universal would look to vinyl fans to "crowdfund" releases that these people feel Universal should simply fund. It's similar to the webrage that emerges whenever somebody famous says they're going to try to crowdfund something.

But, given what media sources are saying, Universal is basically gauging interest by asking fans to commit to buying the album ahead of time. It's not a presale because a presale is simply an early opportunity to place an order that sometimes includes an early digital download or the like as reward.

So they called it crowdfunding at least in part because there really isn't any other word for that process. Not that I can think of anyway.

Unfortunately for Universal, people now think of crowdfunding as way to bring projects into existence that have no other forms of funding. And that's a great thing. I think crowdfunding is a truly radical disruption in how music funding is accomplished.

The webrage surrounding Universal's use of the term crowdfunding, whose depth is difficult to gauge, seems to be a result of recently established stances related to definitions of crowdfunding.

Once a word has come to symbolize something meaningful to a large number of people, those people often get upset with the fact that words can have multiple meanings, as we've seen from the webrage over the term "indie".

But who own the term crowdfunding? And who decides what it means? It's new and we're still figuring out its parameters.

The fact that it's used in all sorts of ways doesn't help matters. Patreon, a patronage service is being described as "crowdfunding" though it doesn't fit the model that people seem to be basing their webrage upon. Music Love uses the term to describe their random donation model. But is anybody getting mad about their obvious misuse?

Crowdfunding As a Marketing Term

This brings us to the other reason Universal probably used crowdfunding to describe what The Vinyl Project will do. Crowdfunding has a warm and fuzzy vibe which makes it a great term for marketing purposes. So, yeah, it will be fucked as a meaningful word before long.

That means people will need to start defining their terms or else web discussions of crowdfunding, inasmuch as they can be considered discussions, will be dominated by people talking past each other just as were recent web discussions of indie.

Maybe that's just the human condition.

Be that as it may, as Percy Thrillington wrote:

"At the very least (and indeed, most) The Vinyl Project sounds like a moderately new way to shop for records that might allow a smaller audience to get its hands on something they love, which is hard to argue too strongly against—though count on the internet to find a way."

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. I understand the point of trying to figure out when someone say’s I’m Buying This since it’s an app we’ll being rolling out for our artists. It’s a pretty simple concept and part of the new services modern distributors are rolling out for partners.

  2. Why couldn’t they just call it market research? Or better yet call it a contest to let fans decide the first album to press.
    It sounds like the same model Threadless uses to pick Tshirts. They refer to their process as croudsourcing.

  3. Market research just wouldn’t communicate to the potential customer and would confuse people who know market research as something more than demand for a single product.
    Crowdfunding is a form of crowdsourcing but crowdsourcing is neither popularly understood nor associated with musician in any particular way.
    It’s a tough one.

  4. When I heard they where crowd funding, it didn’t bother me at all. I figured they probably didn’t have enough money in the budget to release certain albums on vinyl.I realize now that that was not their intent, but why is it so hard to believe that the music industry no longer has the capital it once had?

  5. I think budgetary limits are a good thing to consider. To me that’s inherent in the fact that it would be a poor business decision to press a bunch of vinyl without knowing the audience is there.
    If they just repressed everything that once did well they’d end up with a bunch of product in warehouses having to pay taxes on it every year.
    So they may have the money to press what they want without crowdfunding but they probably don’t have the money to indiscriminately reissue every piece of music that ever did well in hopes that it would one day sell.

  6. Economies of scale. You can make 2k vinyl jackets for $3 each whereas they’d be $7 each if you only made 1k. Makes good sense to know your market before you place a print order.

  7. I understand the confusion. I think it definitely qualifies as a pre-sale but Universal wanted to sound hip and “in-touch” so they wrongly used the term Crowd Funding. That was a very exciting marketing meeting and everyone shared a high five after the Haiku deck was presented and vinyl is a great idea for a very small (but growing) audience.
    This is a good example of how the industry is changing for the better. They are getting out of the position of telling fans what they like and letting fans receive something of value. Unfortunately when Universal does this it’s like your Uncle Morty trying to dance. It’s awkward…

  8. I think Clyde hit it on the nail head, and a problem we’ve heard from both stores and fans via Record Store Day is that the Majors are clogging up the supply chain pushing their reissues and some of the newer indie stuff get’s cut out of the stores buying budget since they have to take care of the man first. Which is why we see our service BuyingThis(tm) helping to fill the gap with knowledge direct from the consumer.

  9. They could have called it pre-ordering or an on-demand vinyl pressing. I think there are probably more elegant ways they could have phrased it. One would think some PR genius somewhere would have thought twice about putting the words “crowdfunding” and “Universal” in the same sentence. Even cooler would have been to establish a boutique subsidiary separate from their brand, license the rights to them, and made it something chic and maverick.

  10. Greetings Ms. Whittle:
    Doesn’t preorder assume there’s something to order?
    On-demand means one at a time.
    Neither works for Universal’s needs and neither would communicate clearly to vinyl fans without an explanation explaining that the words mean something different than they’re used to.
    “boutique subsidiary” – wouldn’t somebody figure that out and then it would look even worse for them?

  11. What they could have done is given up having a single word for it and chosen a name for the project that clarifies what it is, for example:
    Vinyl Fans’ Choice
    You Choose Which Vinyl We Repress!
    Or something along those lines. Transparent, not overreaching, giving the fans whatever they decide they want.
    And enlisting the bands in the rollout.
    Which Classic Album Do You Want To Have On Vinyl?
    Support your favorite album at Vinyl Fans’ Choice!

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