Prince, The Internets, and Content Strategy

Last week, the Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince made some provocative and telling statements in an interview with “The Mirror” in the UK.

 “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.

“The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.

“They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

Much has changed in the past few years in the music industry.  New avenues of digital distribution have popped up, physical music sales overall have fallen to dismal levels, and an entire generation is living music-filled lives without buying a single CD, cassette, or LP.

Prince still wants people to hear his music. He is simply unwilling to give it to them in the way that they devour it. That is Prince’s strategy. He is an artist, and he can do as he pleases, however ill-advised it may be.

The reality of Prince’s strategy

Based on his statements, here is a rough distillation of Prince’s strategy:

Who: Prince
What: Releasing music
When: Whenever, suckers
Where: Where he deems suitable, rather than where people already are
How: Not on the internet, as it is “completely over”
Why: The internet and digital gadgets are no good

And, in direct conflict, the reality of the situation:

Who: Prince fans
What: They want to buy the latest album
When: ASAP
Where: From the comforts of their keyboards
How: Digitally, in a space they trust, like iTunes
Why: This is how they buy and listen to all of their music

What is wrong with this picture? Looks more like a contrary strategy than a content strategy.

Success, reality, and a content strategy

Prince has always been a bit of a populist, looking to get his music in the hands of as many folks as possible. Hi newest album, “20TEN”, was available for free with the purchase of a newspaper, “The Mirror,” in the UK. When I saw him in concert a few years ago, he handed out free CDs of his most recent album to each ticket holder.  It is clear that he wants people to hear his music.

Prince is an established artist, and his past successes grant him the freedom to engage in contrary behavior. What if that attitude were not from Prince but from an incorporated business? What would stakeholders say if they were to examine a similar content strategy:

  • Don’t sell our product where millions and millions of products have been sold (iTunes)
  • Avoid the largest communication phenomenon of the last 25 years (the internet)
  • Give the product away with another, masking any true measure of performance
  • Proclaim that the newest product will be in a format on the decline stuffed in another format in decline (CDs in newspapers)

Content strategy has been described as “the planning, creation, delivery and governance of useful, usable content” by Kristina Halvorson. That is quite the opposite of the above strategy on nearly every point.

Prince has his Prince-osity to get him by. Businesses do not. Focus on what sets you apart, craft it sustainably with realistic goals, and measure to gauge success.  Do that, and you shan’t have a need for Purple Superpowers.

[“Prince @ Coachella 2008” image courtesy of Flickr user Mick 0 (cc: by-nc)]

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