MP3.com Introduces New E-Mail Services

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MP3.com, San Diego, had at least one thing to smile about last week as the online digital music provider introduced new e-mail marketing services to both its users and potential record label partners.


The embattled Internet firm rolled out a program called single-serving e-mail that seeks to give major music labels a new way to introduce up-and-coming artists to consumers via e-mail. The first single-serving e-mail promotion went out on Aug. 31 to a few hundred thousand MP3.com users. It touted Elektra Entertainment rock artist VAST.


A few days earlier, MP3.com struck a partnership with Expression Engines, a New York-based e-mail marketer, that will provide MP3.com users with a tool to add MP3 audio files and Expression Engines graphics to their outgoing e-mails.


The addition of these services may be another indication that even high-profile Internet firms such as MP3.com are seeing some of their best business opportunities in e-mail.


"MP3.com recognizes the positive influence of the consumer-to-consumer communication platform Expression Engines provides," said Al DiGuido, Expression Engines CEO. E-mail programs such as the one his firm offers, he added, can help "any organization … enhance its ability to drive more traffic, improve response rates and increase online transactions."


While MP3.com's Expression Engines e-mail efforts are pure viral marketing -- relying on music fans to promote their preferred artists -- the company's single-serving e-mails are direct marketing at their core.


Through the new e-mail service, MP3.com is offering record labels a way to tap into the database of more than 10 million MP3 online users. MP3's single-serving e-mail delivers to its recipients a streaming, full-length radio edit of an artist's single encoded in MP3 format.


The service will allow record labels to promote artists to dedicated music fans who can be segmented by geographical location or musical tastes or both. If, for instance, a label is set to release an album in October, it might start e-mailing MP3 users a few weeks prior to the release date in order to build up anticipation. Previously, this kind of promotion was done only through advance radio airplay.


For obvious reasons, it is important for a label to know that an e-mail promoting a punk rock band is reaching people who have indicated an interest in rock 'n' roll. The geographical component is equally important, however, because it can hit California-based MP3 users when a band or artist is about to embark on a West Coast tour.


In the campaign for VAST, the e-mails featured a Web link for recipients to click and play the song. The e-mails also included a link to Amazon.com, where VAST's album -- which comes out this week -- could be reserved. MP3 said the record label -- in this case Elektra and its parent, Warner Music Group -- would select which online retailer it wants linked to the e-mail.


In a prepared statement, MP3 Chairman/CEO Michael Robertson said his firm's technology, database of users and passionate community would "complement [the labels'] traditional promotional and marketing efforts."


The publicity department of Elektra Entertainment did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview.


The launch of this service ironically coincides with last week's ruling against MP3.com (see story, page 3) in its legal case with Universal Records -- one that could cost the company from $118 million to $250 million. The single-serving e-mail program is an attempt by MP3 and record labels to work together to promote both musicians and their recordings.


The deal between MP3.com and Expression Engines, though also centered on e-mail, is somewhat different. Under the terms of their partnership, MP3.com's 10 million-plus members can now use Favemail, an e-mail enhancement tool created by Expression Engines, to deliver personal e-mails with streaming audio and hyperlinked graphics as well as links to various Web sites. All of these features are contained inside the Favemail box at the bottom of the e-mail and do not significantly increase the e-mail's file size, according to the companies.


"The integration of Favemail throughout MP3.com allows millions of potential users to distribute MP3.com digital artist content and music via one of the most pervasive communications platforms -- e-mail," Robertson said in a statement announcing that deal.


In this arrangement, MP3.com members can earn incentives for promoting the artists to their friends, while MP3.com artists can earn commissions for audio files that are played back.
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