New service gives station donors choice of digital music premiums

By Sean Meehan

A supplier of pledge-drive premiums to public broadcasters is offering an upgrade to traditional CD giveaways, providing a new program of monthly music downloads delivered via email.

The program from Forest Incentives, Forest Music Express, has blanket agreements with several record labels, including all three majors, allowing stations to send virtually any album to their donors.

Forest Music Express is billed as an update to the concept of the “CD of the Month” club, allowing stations to curate gifts to donors while avoiding the logistics of mailing physical recordings. The distribution system integrates with membership databases at stations to deliver download links to donors.

“The beauty behind this is that the stations can do their own work, and we can distribute the albums in really short order,” said John Vernile, who created Forest Music Express.

Forest Incentives originally developed its music-download program with public TV stations in mind. But it found that public radio listeners are more likely to purchase music and are more comfortable with digital music than public TV viewers.

The program has been pilot-tested at KPLU in Seattle and WXPN in Philadelphia. WXPN has offered monthly CDs as a premium to higher-level donors for 15 years. Whether the albums WXPN provides are physical or digital, the station’s ability to choose the albums adds value to the gift for donors, says Deb Ashmore, membership director at the station.

“These folks are giving $84 per month, and they could obviously buy a CD for less than that, but it’s not about the CD — it’s about the value they’re placing on the station,” she said. “Our programming staff selects the CD of the month, and it is definitely driven by a curatorial process.”

During the pilot period with Forest Music, WXPN offered new CD-of-the-month club donors a choice of physical or digital albums, and all but one of the 21 donors chose digital. The station has been less successful at convincing existing members to switch to digital albums, but Ashmore is surprised at the new donors’ overwhelming preference for digital releases.

“I would’ve guessed half of our new donors [would choose digital],” she said. “Maybe it will be soon that at least the vast majority of our audience will be selecting digital.”

Vernile says that the program received a lot of attention from stations at last month’s Public Media Development and Marketing Conference. Forest Incentives is also exploring how to use its distribution system to send donors e-books and digital videos in addition to music.

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