R.E.M. fans (like me!) and music-biz folks interested in exploring new ways to use the Web should check out the two-part series on Hypebot.com about the band's online campaign for its latest album, Accelerate.
The posts are written by Ethan Kaplan, the Warner Bros. vice president of technology who worked with the band to design a technology-intensive publicity campaign.
Ninetynights.com, which included exclusive short videos of the recording process.
REMDublin.com, which evolved into a wiki-style collaboration between fans and resulted in fan-created videos scoring top-popularity spots on YouTube.
All good stuff, and the Ninetynights.com site did spark my awareness that a new R.E.M. album was coming out. But Kaplan failed to answer the main question. As he wrote, "After a string of disappointing releases (one artistically, all three commercially), the band decided to regroup and refocus...."
So did the Web campaign help sales?
Well, Accelerate did sell 115,500 copies in the U.S. during its debut week in April. And by July 30, it was up more than 300,000, according to SoundScan. That's already more than the 232,000 U.S. sales of its execrable last album, Around the Sun, and close to the 415,000 of its underrated 2001 album, Reveal.
But how much of that has been due to the Web campaign, and how much of that is due to the fact that Accelerate didn't totally suck?
On a related note, I read a long but excellent blog posting from a longtime musician that basically says: forget about the business; music's power has nothing to do with unit sales and marketing models.
It's required reading if you're spent more time thinking about In Rainbows pay-what-you-like download model than listening to the actual record.