Music Business

More Thoughts On Bandcamp’s Subscription Feature

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It may come as a surprise to those not familiar with the Chinese indie scene that BandCamp is fairly widely adopted as part of local artists’ promo toolbox – at least for serious gigging bands with releases under the likes of Genjing Records and Maybe Mars. BandCamp chief executive Ethan Diamond told the Guardian recently that the service would be giving every artist the ability to create a subscription service of their own on the site. The offering can be tailored to an artist’s audience, with flexible pricing and the option to include back-catalogue bonuses for subscribers being some of the variables on offer.

The whole motivation here is that when you get to a point that you love an artist – when you go from liking them to being a real true fan of theirs – at some point you just want everything they make. You just want to support everything that they do,” he said.

Bandcamp’s new feature is the latest attempt to offer musicians a way to earn a regular income from their fans, however the new feature has attracted some incredulity. One piece posted to Hypebot suggested the model simply wouldn’t work, providing a number of unfounded speculations including:

  • Fans are more interested in a song by an artist than the artist themselves.
  • It’s really difficult to produce quality content over the course of a year.
  • Artists aren’t able to cater to both subscribing and non-subscribing fans.
  • The subscription model somehow cannibalises potential future sales of releases.

For the most part we disagree. However, rather than spend time on these generalisations, we’d rather consider whether the model has any relevance for Chinese acts.

177582371The subscription model has already been at work in China since 2013 on WeChat, with the high profile case study of Chen Kun getting a lot of circulation in the online English tech press. A one-year subscription to the actor’s WeChat account was pegged at around US$27, and grants fans access to various exclusive content items. The example provides good evidence that the model BandCamp is introducing is technically feasible and present elsewhere in the territory.

As far as indie acts go, we’d be more inclined to say it’s too early to start charging subscriptions. Look at crowdsourcing – this model has just about made it off the ground, with various acts turning to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Pledge and local alternatives to launch campaigns to fund tours and releases. In such instances, fans know explicitly what they’re buying into.

With a subscription, you’re paying for (at most) access to an artist’s entire discography plus more, but thereafter, the value of your subscription is going to be pegged against the artist’s vague guarantee of future releases. If these don’t materialise, you’re effectively providing an advance to the artist – this is, according to the argument Diamond is making, what super fans might want. But besides the super fans, there might not be much appeal.

We don’t have any examples of indie bands having tested the subscription model before (do you?), and would wager that the mainstream artists with scale would rather create and own their own fan clubs, administering their own subscriptions. BandCamp is offering something that would appeal more to a developed media-purchasing middle class as seen in the west, so the service is likely to remain a supplement to a Chinese artist’s promotional strategy alongside staples like Xiami and Douban.

Provided BandCamp gets more traction and isn’t prevented from growing by ever-diversifying behemoths like Xiami (owned by Alibaba as local readers will know), it might be an interesting new model to explore for China’s new generation of mid-level acts.

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