A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 16, 2013

Depends What You Mean By Free: App Downloads' Hidden Requirements Generate Backlash

How many times have we heard that there's no free lunch? A gazillion? A quantrillion? Yeah, whatever, it's up there.

So when All-World celebrity Jay Z announced that his next album could be downloaded 'free' by anyone with a Samsung Galaxy mobile, why were we surprised that there were a few 'conditions?' Like, that you had to provide reams of personal information, sign into Facebook or Twitter and send out an alert to all your contacts that you were about to download his album on a Samsung product.

Now, as a nation that routinely provides the most intimate details in return for 10 percent off on a $4 cup of coffee, it seems a bit hypersensitive to be suddenly complaining about giving up a few lines of personal info, and okay, your location, for something of considerably greater value than a cents off discount, to say nothing of the item's inherent coolness. But this may actually be more of a trend than a data point. We may be entering a new era of contested values. Call it the Clash of the Entitleds.

Merchants have become accustomed to demanding information and data that would embarrass your obstetrician - and are quite convinced they can and should receive it. Consumers, however, are beginning to question the trade-off from their own standpoint of entitledness. First off, they dont like the hassle: convenience r us. We want what we want when we want it, and sometimes even when we dont realize it. And we want no strings, conditions, rules, regulations or effort required. The net is not Ikea and DYI just won't cut it on the web. Secondly, there is a dawning realization that all that information actually has a value and that whatever we are giving up, no matter how basic, fragmented and easy to provide, may be worth more than we are receiving in return. Which leads to a third issue concerning ethics. Free means free, not just no monetary payment. The demand for something in return for something ostensibly being given away strikes some as a bit of a welch - and one that makes them feel ripped off.

All of which suggests that the economic and emotional relationship between brands and their customers continues to evolve. And those who test its boundaries or ignore its shifting sensibilities may find they are paying a greater price in reputational and promotional value than may be advisable. JL

John Jurgensen reports in the Wall Street Journal:

As apps gain popularity, musicians and companies are feeling their way through the new rules of digital etiquette.
Last month, when Jay-Z said that he would be distributing one million copies of his newest album free through an application on Samsung Electronics Co.'s 005930.SE -1.14%smartphones, the rapper was widely lauded for his marketing savvy.
Now, five days after that exclusive release, and as the "Magna Carta Holy Grail" album is released to the general public Tuesday, Jay-Z and his collaborators have been forced to halt the victory lap to explain technical glitches and user complaints about privacy that marred the app's debut.
Owners of Samsung's Galaxy phones who had downloaded the "Magna Carta Holy Grail" app were supposed to be able to download the rapper's album just after midnight on July 4. Samsung said that 1.2 million copies of the app were downloaded.
Problems began, however, when users experienced delays in downloading the music at the appointed hour. Frustrated, they closed and opened the app repeatedly, creating a backlog of data requests that swamped the company's servers, said Colleen McDuffe, director of digital marketing for Samsung Telecommunications America. Samsung wouldn't say how many copies of the album have been successfully downloaded, only that the figure is "very close" to the one million allotted copies.
Through a spokeswoman, Jay-Z declined to comment. On Monday, when asked in a Twitter session about complaints about the app, the rapper replied with a conciliatory tweet that included the words "must do better."
Even many of those who were able to download the album were turned off by the amount of personal information the app requested, including their physical location and data related to their phone calls. The app also asked them to sign into Facebook FB +0.57%or Twitter before they could use the app, and the software required users to send out an alert to a social account when they took basic steps like accessing song lyrics. Ms. McDuffe said that all of the information requests were required to make the app function as planned, and that the requirement to go public on social media wasn't meant to be intrusive.
"It's much ado about nothing," said John Meneilly, one of Jay-Z's two managers. "You have to provide a lot more information than was asked for in this app when you buy music with a credit card." He said the rapper's company, Roc Nation, has no plans to use any personal information gathered through the app. "There's no secret room with people trying to mine through and find out which other artists you like or don't like," he said.
The experiment is being closely watched in the music business, where apps are widely seen as the next distribution system. Lady Gaga has said the release of her next album will revolve around an app. It is unclear what effect the exclusive release through Samsung—or the initial problems—will have on sales of the Jay-Z album when it is released on CD and via online retailers Tuesday.
Michael Schneider, co-founder and chief executive of Mobile Roadie, a popular supplier of music apps, says that requiring users to share their app activity on social media is especially problematic.
"Top of the list is don't force people to log in. I think that's wrong and it turns fans off," he said. In the case of the Jay-Z app, he noted, the obligatory sharing was somewhat tempered by the fact that users knew they would be receiving a free album in exchange for their tweets and posts.
In recent years, Jay-Z's business acumen has become as important to his persona as the music he makes. He struck a deal with Microsoft Corp.'s MSFT -0.04%Bing search engine to market an unconventional memoir, "Decoded," by urging fans to track down pages. The rapper, a former minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, was recently certified to operate as an agent for professional athletes.
His app launch is part of a broader deal with Samsung that is valued at an estimated $20 million. That includes $5 per album that Samsung paid for the rights to release one million copies of "Magna Carta Holy Grail." Samsung and Roc Nation declined to discuss details of the deal.
"The reason we did the deal with Samsung is that hand-held devices will be the key to music distribution in the future," Mr. Meneilly said.
The last-minute timing of the partnership could have contributed to the technical hiccups. Discussions between Jay-Z's team and Samsung went on for about four months, but the deal wasn't finished until the morning of June 14. About an hour later, a camera crew was in a Manhattan recording studio, shooting scenes of the rapper in conversation with a handful of star music producers. Two days later, a commercial culled from the footage debuted in a rare three-minute slot during game five of the NBA finals—and announced the album's release via app.
Todd Pendleton, chief marketing officer for Samsung Telecommunications America, said the app was built in 17 days in order to meet the release deadline on July 4, a date meant to symbolize the rapper's independence from industry norms and his direct line to fans.


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