Arrr! There be pirates! And today, we be talkin' music pirates.
There's been a lot of jibber-jabber from all sides about what kind of stand any given media should take on piracy. Some people think piracy is not bad, some people think it is outright theft, and a lot of people can make sounds like a motorboat if they bleeble their lips.
Me, I'm of the opinion that what you think about piracy is totally irrelevant. There are pirates. They will steal your stuff. If you encrypt it, they will tear the encryption apart. Three days is what a popular piece of media has if it is pirate protected.
You have three options:
1) Make your sales to non-pirates. Minimal protection that pirates can break without any trouble, but everyday joes will be okay with. iTunes does this.
2) Make the majority of your sales in the first three days. More and more AAA games are relying on this. It's viable for certain kinds of content: news, stock reports, etc. Music and games really aren't really a time-sensitive media, though, so...
3) Use the pirates.
My favorite option is the third option.
What you do is give away your first-tier product. Or, if more suitable, encourage people to steal it. The Grateful Dead, for example.
This first-tier product is what people commonly think of as a product. It might be a song, or a search, or a game. The point is to get it to be as ubiquitous as possible.
Then you have a second-tier product. This is a product which is intrinsically linked to the first product, either emotionally or algorithmically. This is what you sell.
The Grateful Dead didn't sell music: they sold concerts. Google doesn't sell searches: it sells advertising on those searches. Webcomics don't usually sell comics: they sell add-on bits like posters and collections and limited-edition crap.
When it comes to pirates, they are essentially sources of attention. Get them to use your stuff, and if it's decent, their eyes are now on you. Then you can leverage that attention, either making the would-be pirates pay for additional services or by finding people who want to connect to those would-be pirates.
So, music industry. If you were the music industry, and you were simultaneously me, what would you do?
How about iTunes? Pretty good stuff. Music sold cheap. Listen for free to radio stations. Pirates take it, but that's okay. What about this add-on:
Pay a dollar, rate a band or song. This changes its ranking, its likelyhood of showing up at the top of the searches, in the radio streams, and what the quotes which pop up in the corner when you go to their sub-page say.
You think Spears sucks? Pay a buck, tell the world. You think Kenna rocks? Pay a buck, tell the world. Change what other people hear by paying the coin.
And when a song gets too popular? A self-correcting feature as people pay a buck to rate the song down and say, "I've heard it a million times!" Extra cash.
I can think of a few bands I would pay to rate, and I'm a hard case.
Anyhow, I think it's an awesome idea.