22 December 02005

Research on playlists and sharing as means of recommending music

The transition to online music distribution is occurring at the same time that consumers have an exploding number of sources of information about music, from established media sources to Internet-connected friends and strangers. As a result, getting the word out about new material, new bands or back catalogs is made more difficult for music marketers and artist promoters. Harnessing the instinct of consumers to share music and information about music and the communications tools available will be an important strategic thrust for music labels and distributors.

This comes from a research report about online playlist services by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Their twelve-page report — a free download (536 KB PDF file) — is based on a survey of early adopters of digital media.

This excellent overview covers:

  • examples of playlist sharing services, which are classified as 'stand-alone' (all the services I've covered here fall into this category) or 'service-tied', such as those that are built into iTunes, Rhapsody and Yahoo! Music Unlimited;
  • the cultural benefits of online playlists, in terms of the range of music that gets shared via these services — apparently 58% of online music listeners feel they are exposed to a wider variety of music as a result, and 28% of these see the ability to share music as desirable;
  • the "exploding number of sources of information about music" which breaks the "marketing bottleneck" for music discovery that radio and TV have represented for the past 25 years, opening potential to "democratise" information about back catalogue and the 'long tail', driving demand and creating high-margin revenue;
  • a prediction that, "By 2010, 25 percent of online music store transactions will be driven directly from consumer-to-consumer taste-sharing applications, such as playlist publishing and ranking tools built into online music stores or external sites with links to stores" (my emphasis).

Elsewhere the report says "One-tenth of early adopters stated that they often make music purchases based on others' recommendations". I'm guessing that this also refers to purchases based directly and wholly on recommendations, because my instinct (admittedly that's all I'm going on) is that many more people would say their purchases were at least partly based on others' recommendations.

Most purchases are decided on multiple factors, including existing familiarity with the music or the artist, record label marketing and radio/TV plays — and word of mouth frequently plays a part as well, moderating or amplifying the other factors. (See my article on recommendations and word of mouth.)

The Berkman Center report explains that, "By focusing on consumer-to-consumer recommendation tools, we do not mean to suggest that they are by definition superior to other recommendation systems… we want to highlight their apparent importance as part of the music information-gathering experience". Consumer-to-consumer tools clearly have more of a social element than, say, Amazon's recommendations, and its the anthropological aspect of playlist sharing tools that this San Diego Union-Tribune article focuses on.

This article is more impressionistic in its focus on short case studies of different ways people use playlists, but it also draws on the research on iTunes music sharing led by Amy Voida (previously covered on this site here and here).

Derek Slater from the Berkman Center has published what he calls a "playlist about music playlists" — effectively a set of web links — and I'm happy to see that my review is 'track' number 1. In similar vein, here are my Furl bookmarks linked to playlists.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Music and Multimedia, Playlists, Social Software on 22 December 02005 | TrackBack
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