Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Unwanted format: The Playbutton

A few years back, there was a brief vogue for chunky little plastic boxes which, when you hit a button, would play a song. I've got vague memories of them being offered in McDonalds; certainly, they were considered to be kiddies' toys.

Somewhat surprised, then, to see the idea being resurrected by a company pushing something called PlayButton:

The Playbutton is a digital music album in the form of a badge, providing album artwork that you can wear. Pin it to your lapel, plug in a pair of headphones and you can walk down the street displaying your musical taste as you listen.
Now, you could say that's perhaps a bit of a curious idea as a gimmick; knock a few of these out as part of a marketing campaign and it'd be a bit of a laugh, right?

The truth, though, is that they're thinking of it as an actual format. To sit alongside CDs:
"It's a small object, perfect and immediate, that you can hold in your hand," says Nick Dangerfield, founder of the New York-based Playbutton company.

Mr Dangerfield says he came up with the format in response to a widespread feeling that people were "tired with CDs", but finding digital music downloads "not entirely satisfying".

"I thought about giving a new use to digital files by putting them in a dedicated player. It's an iconic form that gives you the chance to show your affiliation," he says.
People aren't "tired of CDs", though, are they? They're buying downloads because they're more convenient. You don't see people in HMV... well, you don't see people in HMV at all, but if you did, they're not saying "I'd really buy a record, but these circles of plastic are so derivative. If only there was some ugly badge thing I could buy instead."

Seriously, the idea that it's somehow going to be attractive to buy music in a format where the music can't be transferred to another player, which can only play the ten tracks over and over again and - oh yes - you can't shuffle the order of the tunes:
Mr Dangerfield thinks the sequencing of an album is about "surrendering control to the artist" and that something important is lost when we have the power to rearrange its track listing.
Yes. The power to not have to listen to rubbishy filler that has been dolloped on the record in order to stretch an ep-worth of idea into a lp-worth of a sale.

So, this latter day eight track should at least have the benefit of being cheap, right?
Mr Dangerfield thinks the ideal price would be $15 (£10) if bands sold them at their gigs, but the price could be up to double that, "depending on the type of release and sales channel".

"It's up to the artist to decide how much they want to charge," he says.

Isn't that pricing the Playbutton too high? Mr Dangerfield thinks not.

"If you say to people, 'It's an MP3 player and it's $25,' they say it's cheap," he says. "But if you say, 'It's an MP3 player and it's already got a good record inside,' they think it's expensive."
To be honest, I don't believe that anyone would say "$25 for a 256mb mp3 player? That sounds like a bargain", and it's not much of an advert for your product to say that as soon as anyone puts music on the thing, its perceived value drops like a stone.

Surely music bullets must be on the cards for 2011?