UK-based ad-funded music service We7 is launching officially today, emerging from its beta period with a high-profile Big Listen marketing campaign.Although the company still offers ad-funded downloads, its emphasis has shifted towards streaming, with deals with all four major labels and various independents, and a catalogue expected to be nudging four million tracks by the end of this year.We caught up with CEO Steve Purdham to get his take on the launch, the downloads v streaming debate, and what impact the expected advertising downturn might have on services like We7. See below to read what he had to say.You’re kicking off with the Big Listen campaign. What’s that about?The We7 model is ad-funded music – as much music as you want for nothing, but the artist is still getting paid. But for that to work properly, you have to have the music that people want. The Big Listen is basically about that message – ‘unlimited access to as much music as you want’.We’ve got deals with all the majors and an increasing number of independents, and we’re adding 30,000 tracks a day, so we’ll end up with three to four million by Christmas.Are the majors as up for this as the independents?The independents have got this for a long time, as they adopted new digital models a lot earlier, but the majors have done very well. Once they made the decision that DRM needed to be put to bed and moved to MP3s, that was a crossroads at which their mindsets became much more open.We7 and a lot of other digital models show that there’s no single model that will work. So it’s important to allow multiple models, whether they’re ad-funded from We7, or subscription models, or all-you-can-eat. It’s going to be a combination of all of those.What’s behind the shift away from ad-funded downloads and towards streaming? Do models based around ad-funded downloads have a future?For us, streaming is an addition. Half our catalogue will be available for streaming AND ad-funded downloads, but everything will be available for streaming. It’s just a recognition of a simple economic situation to be quite truthful. The mindset of where a lot of labels are does not yet allow the economics of ad-funded downloads to really come to the front.But it’s like DRM versus MP3 – I think there won’t really be a difference in the future between ad-funded streaming and downloads. It’s for the convenience of the consumer, whether they want to listen to something now or while they’re travelling. There are economic changes to be made, but it will get there.There’s a lot of companies doing ad-funded music streaming already – how are you pitching yourselves against the competition?The main one is local scale. There are a lot of ad-funded models coming to market – people like Imeem, SpiralFrog, Qtrax and so on. But if you look in the UK, Imeem can’t play full-tracks or full albums, it’s just 30-second previews. Deezer is based in France rather than the UK.If you look at the UK, it’s and We7, and even don’t really push the ad-funded side as such. Nobody’s delivering full-tracks, full albums and unlimited plays in the UK.But the real competition is still the piracy world. We have to make We7 easier than going to a pirate site if we want to make any inroads into the world of piracy. You’ve got to have free, it’s got to be easy to use, and you’ve got to have the ability for people to find the music they want. Up until now, most services haven’t actually delivered that.Paid-for services won’t make any inroads against piracy. Free delivery, where people can consumer as much as they want, is where people have a choice. We think it’s easier to listen to an album on We7 now than it is to download from BitTorrent.How careful are you having to be about saying We7 is ‘free’? Companies like Nokia seem nervous of the f-word, worrying what the labels will say if they portray music as free…Well, in our case the music is free to the consumer, but paid-for to the artists and labels. We’re not trying to hide from the fact that consumers want to listen to music as much as they want. That to the consumer is free, but it’s an unusual phenomenon called ‘paid-for free’, shuffling the burden of cost to somebody else.Of course, not everybody likes adverts, so on We7 people can listen to as much music as they want for free, and then buy what they love. If you’re thinking of buying an album, listening to 30-second previews is not enough. We’re selling the music at competitive rates in MP3 formats.Have you seen any evidence so far that people who stream music for free are then buying some of it?Well, we’ve been pre-launch, but there are two phenomenons that happen. We’re seeing that people are prepared to listen to albums rather than tracks. And we are seeing people buying as a result of streaming more music. It’s a strange balance – the labels would ideally want a 1:1 relationship [between streaming and subsequent paid-for downloads].We’re not there yet, although I can’t say it’s 1:100, 1:1,000 or 1:10,000. But the key thing is that we’re giving consumers the choice, which is one of the biggest battles against piracy.So what about this advertising downturn – if a recession strikes and everyone cuts their ad budgets, won’t new models like yours suffer?Well, the reality of the situation is that any recession creates caution. If you look at digital advertising spends, in the UK next year they’re forecast to be somewhere in the region of

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