Madonna releases latest single as an MP3

I see that Madonna has released her latest single, American Life, as a downloadable MP3 well in advance of its official release on 29 April 2003.

It’s encouraging to see that her label, Warner Brother Music, are being adventurous with an international star and it gives a glimmer of hope of the music business in the digital age. It may of course also be partially driven my Madge herself, as she’s normally pretty quick at picking up on things, not that this is lightening quick.

The purchaser can download two differing qualities of the track, 128k, 192k, both in two formats, straight MP3 and Windows media with DRM. There’s even an affiliate scheme.

Unfortunately, it’s not all upsides.

  • It costs $1.49, and in return you get a one of the mixes (radio version with rap) that will appear on the physical CD, but you don’t have a choice which mix it is.
  • $1.49 doesn’t reflect the huge cost savings of shipping bits instead of producing and shipping physical goods. Interestingly, it’s also around the price of one of the tracks of the CD version of the album.
  • It’s only available to US-based customers.
  • You can only pay for it using PayPal

On the plus side, it’s refreshingly easy to go through the initial steps of purchase (Sadly I couldn’t complete it as I don’t live in the US). Warner are officially sanctioning the purchasers burning it to a CD – once and they are also allowing the copying of the track to portable audio players.

Strangle the affiliate programme, which differs in one important regard – you don’t get any money, but you do get entered in to a competition to win Madonna goods.

The advantages to Warner are many, for the price of sacrificing (as they would see it) of one mix of the single, they get quite a bit in return:-

  • Find out if users actually has an appetite for paying for MP3’s even if they are a high priced
  • As I assume that each of the downloads is individually marked with an ID linked, they get too watch the extent of file-exchange
  • Find out that given the option of an open file format like MP3, if consumers would be interested in having a file with DRM.
  • They’ll get lots of free publicity for the new album as coincidentally has the same name

The only cloud on the clarity of the results is that, as it will probably be seen as a protest single, I’m not sure if the purchasing behaviour will reflect the normal patterns of purchase.

I’m looking forward to hearing anything that Warner choose to release about their experiment.