ArtistDirect strives to be the one-stop portal of online music portals: a place where you can shop for CDs and clothes emblazoned with the name of a favorite musician, chat with people about what’s going on in the music scene and catch up on the news of the day.
It’s actually a network of sites linked off the ArtistDirect.com homepage. Included are ArtistChannels, which are free-to-access Web sites with content and products offered for sale controlled by the musician featured on the page. Among those bands are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and the Who.
The other channels of the ArtistDirect.com network includes the Ultimate Band List with almost 100,000 artists; iMusic, a forum for chats, message boards and fan clubs; the ArtistDirect Superstore and DownloadsDirect, where fans can download digital music.
But within the one-stop music portal lies the main problem that ArtistDirect has to work around: Yahoo! already exists with all these services, has more money, has the brand-name awareness and has similar information and events with A-list bands and up-and-comers.
Is typing in a band’s name on ArtistDirect going to get you any different result than doing the same thing on Yahoo!? No.
As a test, select a band with a loyal following, but which hasn’t reached household-name status —say, the Mr. T Experience, a Bay Area punk band with a significant Internet fan base — and compare the results between ArtistDirect and Yahoo!
By searching for the Mr. T Experience on ArtistDirect, you get transferred to a page on the Ultimate Band List site. It provides links to 14 fan sites, including reviews of albums and interviews with band members. There is a biography of the band and a discography with downloadable audio clips. A list offers CDs for sale, and there is a message board — with the most recent post from Aug. 30, 1999.
By doing the same search on Yahoo!, the results are remarkably similar. Eight fan sites are listed, most of them the same ones that appear on ArtistDirect. There is also a discography with audio clips that the user can download, and there is also a section where CDs are for sale. Yahoo! has four online “clubs” dedicated to the Mr. T Experience, each with a message board and chat rooms. Several of the clubs were active, with members posting messages during the past week.
The big-name ArtistChannels do provide a greater amount of exclusive content, but that’s not so much ArtistDirect’s doing as it is the publicity team for each of the bands, which controls what goes up on the site. And of the 100,000 artists that ArtistDirect brags about, only 107 have ArtistChannels.
Most of the content on sites dedicated to the remaining bands isn’t original, but instead links to other independent sites on the Internet. It appears as though the links are rarely updated, because several links to fan pages dedicated to various bands lead to dead ends.
When ArtistDirect started trading publicly on the Nasdaq last week, investors gave it a cool reception, sending the stock tumbling 21% on its first day of trading, and an additional 16% the next.
Reasons for the drop — ranked as one of the worst results for an IPO this year — varied: Some cited an overall decline in tech stocks, others consider ArtistDirect’s network of Web sites indistinguishable from other music portals.
Still, because of the investment of the Big Five record labels, ArtistDirect has the potential to get more exclusive content on a greater number of bands and give other music sites a run for their money.
When this day comes, maybeinvestors will jump on board, and users of ArtistDirect will get a rich experience. But until this shift happens, ArtistDirect seems doomed to second-tier status.