Even though the RIAA continues to go after Internet file-sharers, millions of music fans keep downloading songs. Naturally, this hurts album sales, which were down around 12 percent for the first half of 2003.
To try to convince people to actually buy albums again, record companies have offered value-added packaging such as the ever-popular bonus DVD, which typically contains backstage footage, exclusive interviews, videos and maybe a live recording or two. But adding a DVD can be costly. Labels typically pay between one and two dollars per extra disc, which means as much as an additional $2 million for an artist like Limp Bizkit, who included a DVD with the first million copies of their latest record, Results May Vary.
As an alternative, the Universal Music Group has concocted a different strategy, bypassing the bonus DVD in favor of the "golden ticket" raffle. The contest, which is being tested with releases by Obie Trice, G-Unit, Puddle of Mudd and Blink-182, includes a certain number of winning tickets in CDs shipped to stores. These tickets entitle consumers to various fabulous prizes. The idea was modeled after the Roald Dahl story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which kids who found tickets in their chocolate bars got to visit Willy Wonka's cavernous chocolate empire, and one inherited the kingdom.
The golden-ticket campaign may be a win-win situation. It's much more cost effective for labels than bonus DVDs and it gives fans an opportunity to receive a dream gift.
Three consumers who find golden tickets inside the Obie Trice record, Cheers, get to spend a day in the studio with Eminem. Four lucky winners from the G-Unit sweepstakes for Beg for Mercy (out November 18) will receive a $12,500 diamond-studded G-Unit medallion. The grand-prize winner of the contest for Puddle of Mudd's Life on Display (out November 25) will become the band's unofficial fifth member, spending a week on tour with the band, while 10 first-prize winners each get an autographed guitar. The lucky dog who finds a golden ticket inside the still-untitled new Blink-182 disc (out November 18) will win a private concert for his or her family and 50 friends.
It's too early to tell whether the "golden ticket" will be a successful marketing strategy.
So far, no one has claimed the prizes from the Obie Trice contest, which was conducted in a somewhat haphazard fashion. Interscope included three winning tickets in the first 500,000 U.S. pressings and three in the first 100,000 Canadian pressings. Winners in the U.S. were to be determined through tickets inside their jewel boxes. Those who didn't win would receive no ticket. However, in Canada, every CD included a lottery ticket with a number on it, and only consumers with the winning numbers would get the golden prize.
Naturally, the recipe for confusion resulted in at least one very disappointed fan, who somehow purchased a Canadian copy in New York and thought he had won. So far 440,000 copies of Cheers have been sold in the U.S., which statistically suggests some consumers are holding winning tickets.
Even if the Interscope campaign isn't worth its weight in gold, other labels have adopted other new marketing techniques. On the most recent Metallica album, St. Anger, discs featured cards with codes for the Web site www.metallica.com, where fans could download three full concerts. The next P.O.D. LP, Payable on Death (out November 4), includes a PlayStation2 disc that enables fans to remix an exclusive band track, and the new Fabolous record, More Street Dreams, Pt. 2: The Mixtape (out November 4), will come with software that allows consumers to create custom mixes of the songs.
So in an ironic twist, at least for now, it looks like the more music lovers continue to download music for free, the more record companies will continue to offer them free stuff as an incentive to buy albums.