99p for a song

A song is a work of art.

The best ones stay with us for years, even lifetimes.

Yet to buy one, to listen at any time, costs 99p.

This is extremely good for the listener. It’s so accessible that when bands try new models, such as auctioning the only copy of their new album or releasing albums on tape, it’s noteworthy as well as quaint - why would anyone go back to making music less easy to hear (vinyl sales aside, but see later). It’s also a leveller - global megahits and your local band’s bedroom-recorded EP all cost the same.

Does it benefit musicians?

The music industry has given consumers access, and has been rewarded. For some record companies, the average streaming service user earns them more than the average customer who buys downloads, CDs or both.

Musicians can make and distribute songs extremely easily and cheaply, with multiple platforms making discoverability and access to audience, so startup costs are marginal. But as a result, there are many more songs and musicians vying for attention.

So for musicians, the industry model has evolved to a wider pie, more thinly sliced, where a longer term approach works better.

Digital art for a song

How much does it cost to buy a digital artwork?

Stock photos aside, I don’t know where I’d even go to buy a digital artwork as a media file. Artists don’t sell them - you can usually only buy a print version instead, costing around £30-£300, and much more for an established artist.

From an access perspective, this is terrible for the consumer. A big upfront payment, a long term commitment, space needed on your walls - it’s a big ask to experience some art. Unsurprisingly, this high barrier means that most people just have much less artwork.

Of course, artworks are sold as objects, not just experiences. Some of the cost is for materials, and some is for exclusivity. This is similar to vinyl sales, where the physical object, as well as the culture around it, has its own value.

NFTs also offer this ownership experience in a more pure sense, as in most cases you own the artists signature not the artwork.

But what if you just want to experience the artwork itself? To enjoy it for a few moments, move on to something else, and then come back to it whenever you like?

Opening up

The idea of selling artwork for 99p, or to a streaming service, can seem anathema.

But as with music, lowering cost increases access and allows a much bigger audience to experience artwork, which also brings ways for artists to earn more.

NFTs have helped show a market for digital artwork based on the traditional art world ownership model. So can digital sales, or streams, work alongside print and NFT sales?

There’s also no obvious interface yet for looking at these artworks (but watch this space). A folder of JPGs doesn’t quite have the same joy as iTunes. But the potential for vastly expanding access to digital art, benefitting consumers and artists alike, is worth exploring.