I will confess I am no heavy metal nut. Hair past my shoulder, black eye liner, tattoos and very very loud music has never been my scene. I have obviously heard of icons such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Megadeath but have never bought one of their albums. And I have never, previously, thought of such bands as being particularly innovative or commercial savvy. I realised my prejudice and error last week when I heard this super story about Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden is like any business. They have a product (their music), revenue streams (records/downloads/merchandise/live performances), assets (their skill), customers (fans), finite resources (time, money) and costs (booze, girls and drugs etc). They face competitive challenges from other bands. They have to navigate a tricky industry landscape which, since their formation, has altered beyond recognition encompassing changing laws, new technologies and evolving consumer tastes.
Recently the band and their management were figuring out the locations for their next world tour. Deciding which cities and stadiums they should play to gain maximum exposure to their fan base, perform to sell out crowds and generate revenue from their merchandise sales.
I suppose the ordinary, lazy, conservative option would have been to simply follow the schedule from their previous tour. It had been successful and nobody would have said that it was a bad choice. However the band thought it was not the best option and they chose to pursue a more unordinary solution: they decided to base their tour venues according to the localities where their music was being pirated and illegally downloaded the most.
At first this seems a bit strange and even a bit uncomfortable-effectively condone people who have done something illegal and not even paid Iron Maiden for the product? Instead of prosecuting them, in a way, you are rewarding them. [I can imagine, with a smile, the conversation in most banks, telcos or other large organisation if an analogous situation were to arise.]
But Iron Maiden got beyond this. They saw these fans not as someone to punish, but as an asset to leverage. Their view was that, irrespective that they had not paid for the music itself, these were passionate fans who, in fact, may even be more likely to pay for concerts and buy the t-shirts et al.
To do this, the band had to employ a specialist web agency called Bright Planet who specialise in harvesting data from something called the deep web. If you do not know what that is you can read about it here. However, in essence, the deep web (as opposed to the surface web) is where nearly all of the information that is online is actually held and is about 400-500 times bigger (believe it or not, Google can only access something like 0.3% of what is on the web). It is also anonymous and impossible to trace individuals, which has many legitimate uses but also lends itself to people wanting to pursue illegal activities such as pirating of music and worse.
So though I still don’t think I will be purchasing The Number of the Beast, I now realise my error: why wouldn’t Iron Maiden have done such a smart thing? They have always been trailblazers, doing things few had done before, not fearing failure and consistently making fans happy. After all, since their first gigs in 1976 in a pub in Stratford they have not exactly pursued an ordinary path have they?
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