April 29, 2004

emusic's kiosk

There’s an interesting AP story today about a new service from eMusic Live, which will put kiosks into clubs and enable club goers to buy MP3s of the show they’ve just seen and download them onto USB keyfobs. A couple of thoughts…

First, I wonder if they’ve worked through the distribution and management issues with the kiosks. This was one of the biggest challenges with eCast, who I worked with when I was at Viant. Bars and nightclubs typically have single-source relationships for anything that makes money that’s even remotely “machine” related. Jukeboxes, cigarette machines, pool tables, pinball machines…they’re typically owned and operated by a local distributor (the guy with the keys); the bar owner gets a cut. These distributor / operator types aren’t very keen on having a new device in “their” clubs, especially if the marketer of that device is trying to sell directly to the club owner. From what I remember of our research, you do not want to piss these guys off.

Second, why a physical device at all? Why not enable bands to sell network-based access to the MP3s? Just like they sell CDs at the gig, they could also sell MP3s. You give them $5 and your email address, they send you an URL the next day. Or you give them just your email address, and they pitch you with a single track teaser the next day, and push the sell of the full gig. I’m not sure the incremental sales from alcohol-induced buying will overcome the incremental support costs of dealing with drunk people jabbing away at a kiosk.

Third, speaking of drunk people, I hope they’re spending a significant amount of time thinking through the kiosk interface design. Number one use case for us when we were working on eCast’s machines was “drunk guy trying to program some REO Speedwagon to impress the woman across the room.” How do we make sure he understands how to swipe his credit card? How much more are we willing to spend on dollar bill readers that accept bills in any direction? How big are our buttons in the UI? What kind of tolerance does the touchscreen have for misdirected fingers? And, most importantly, where does he rest his beer while his hands are busy fumbling for his credit card?

Finally, is this really a good deal for the artists or the clubs? I’m all for creative ways for musicians to hawk their wares. But I’m not sure this will be in their best interest… A user spends $20 on a USB fob, and $10 for the recording. Given that eMusic has to grease the palms of the bar owner, the network operator and the kiosk distributor, just how much is going to end up back in the artist’s hands? Wouldn’t the club and the band be better off buying six or eight high-speed CD burners, rack mounting them near the sound board, ripping discs on demand and selling them directly?