Words matter. The way we describe things are a huge part of how people think of them, even if those descriptions aren’t definitive or in any way concretely imposing on the thing we’re describing.
An example is the language around variable pricing for digital music. The most widely used variant is ‘pay what you want’ and its acronym PWYW. For some reason that grates. It feels dismissive. It feels off-hand. I’m not sure why.
Bandcamp – my digital music sales platform of choice – uses the more neutral ‘name your price’.
The one I’ve generally favoured is ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ – I like idea of encouraging the listener to consider value and how that value best translates into cash in the context of their economic situation. But I do know some people feel really troubled by it – who feel pressured by the idea that their financial contribution is seen as their expression of what the music’s worth, whether or not they’re in any position to put a price on what it really means to them.
So how about ‘pay what you can’? that’s what (I think) the lovely chaps in Hope And Social use – it’s a very friendly alternative, though it also assumes that people are already in a position where they’re trying to pay as much as possible for it and if they pay less than they ‘can’, somehow they’re out of step with the artist…
I’m gravitating towards ‘pay what you think is fair’ at the moment – fairness is a much more open concept in relation to a ubiquitous digital manifestation of an art-entity (I really need to lay off the academia, it’s messing with my language) – fair takes in what’s fair to me, fair to you and fair FOR art/music. It’s contextual, it’s self defined, and it makes the amount itself less of a statement, given the number of qualifiers in there.
We already have the standard range of ‘what a CD used to cost’ – in the UK that’s roughly £5-£15. That reflected various bits of economic thinking, but was largely about what you could get away with (the fact that CDs cost WAY more than vinyl when they came out, despite being cheaper to make from the get-go says it all). But it provides a useful historical reference for us, and certainly means that most people encountering our ‘20 albums for £25’ deal recognise it as a massive bargain…
So, what works for you? Does variable pricing ever stop you from buying something? I can imagine some people finding the process of deciding on a price to be stressful… maybe there should be a suggested price? (if you’re looking for one for my stuff, you could just try £5 an album. Or if you want to take the average that people pay, try £8. If you want to beat the recently-set record for the most paid for a single album download, try £101 )
- Do you prefer a minimum price for context?
- Do you never pay for things that are available with no minimum price?
- Have you ever not bought something just because the idea of a minimum price seemed to imply a lack of trust?
- How does it work for you?
Your answers will be REALLY useful for all musicians trying to work through this.
As I said at the start, words matter. The language we have around music, money, value, experience and the ongoing relationship between artists and their listeners is inherited from a now largely-defunct industrial model, and as such isn’t fit for purpose. This is your chance to become part of that bigger conversation. Call it market research, call it a truth commission – whatever, it’s about making it easier for us all to understand each other and describe what we’re doing in a way that invites other people in.
The comments are yours:by