Harp Magazine on thewho.com

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 28 08:32:57 CDT 2007


Who’s Bucks: The Who Launch For-Fee Subscription Site 
Fred Mills 
October 28, 2007 

...Meanwhile, though, we have the little matter of TheWho.com website.

For some time now, Who fans and fans of Townshend’s myriad solo activities have been able to get Who info and purchase Who merchandise (in particular the group’s “Encore Series” of live concert recordings) at the Eelpie.com website. This was in conjunction with Townshend’s own Townshend.co.uk website, but last year he closed that and EelPie.com has gradually turned relatively static, although it’s still operational.

With the “official” launching of TheWho.com, however, Townshend & Co. appear to be making a rather audacious bid for fans’ hard-earned cash. The site quietly commenced operations several months ago, but now, on Nov. 5, the “official launch” comes in the form of subscriptions offered to ‘oo acolytes:

For $50 a year, you can become a “Wholigan” and be privy to all sorts of goodies — term used in the relative sense — that the unwashed masses won’t be able to view, listen to, talk about with other fans, and otherwise (cough) decide whether or not they want to pay even more money for. (e.g., tickets to concerts: the band has already been doing this with folks who signed up at TheWhoTour.com—which includes a “community” section of fan message boards—but that site is currently not taking any more registrations).

Now, if you’re like most folks, you might be saying to yourself, “Hmm… fifty bucks is a lot to blow just to be able to access a band website… that doesn’t sound like much of a bargain.” If you look closely at the subscription offer, not only is it making you pay for content you previously might have gotten for free (access to Townsend’s blogs, for example, or fan message boards), it’s also making a heavy pitch for you to buy merch (you get a 25% discount if you’re a subscriber; you get advance ticket info—big whoop).

In the past, similar schemes have yielded mixed results. Not long ago Prince discontinued his sub site, where for an annual fee fans got MP3s of unreleased Prince tunes, early word in Internet ticket pre-sales, some vague sense of being part of a “community” and the dubious bragging rights that go with that privilege—and not a whole hell of a lot more.

Other bands that have allowed people to pay for the “privilege” of getting in on those pre-sales haven’t fared too well in the public relations department; anyone remember the U2 debacle a few years ago where fans got nosebleed seats (or none at all) in presales while scalpers seemed to have no trouble at all obtaining tickets?

Who fans are kinda crazy, though. (I should know: I’m one of them. Although I’ve learned to take a deep breath every time yet another live album or ticket package offer comes down the pike.) So it will be interesting to see how many bite. The most intriguing things about this initial offering are an exclusive, Wholigan-only 2-CD set of live rarities called View From A Backstage Pass, which comes as part of your subscription package; and, coming in 2008, access to every song in the Who’s back catalog.

The former is almost enough to make me sign up; like I said, I’m kinda crazy where it comes to the Who, and I’ve paid more than $50 for live Who bootlegs in the past. The latter, well, the subscription offer says “you’ll be able to listen online to Who tracks, then add them to your MP3 player, if you like.” One might legitimately wonder about the “if you like” portion—if you decide you’d like to PAY for MP3 downloads of Who songs, perhaps? If the downloads are to be free, one might legitimately wonder why that that’s not explicitly stated.

No one would argue against any holder of real or intellectual property capitalizing upon assets. That the Who is monetizing its back catalog isn’t particularly controversial in an era when some of the big music industry news this past week was the announcement that Led Zeppelin had finally struck a deal to sell its own back catalog digitally. And the Who maneuver shouldn’t surprise anyone anyway; for years now, Townshend has made his songs available for use in commercial advertisements (and seemingly to the highest bidder, without any semblance of discrimination), so he's no finance novice. The main questions are whether or not the annual $50 subscription fee offers consumers genuine value for their dollar—you’d pay a lot more than that for a year’s subscription to most online music services such as Rhapsody, which for some time has offered the entire Who catalog digitally—and whether or not the Who will keep ponying up exclusives and
 freebies such as that 2-CD set to make the enterprise an ongoing value.

At any rate, here are the subscription details, straight from the horse’s neck. And I take the bait and become a Wholigan. I’ll let you know if that photo on the front sleeve of Who’s Next was just a lucky accident for the band and their photographer, or if it was a metaphorical foreshadowing of the Who pissing all over their fans…. 

-Brian in Atlanta 
The Who This Month! 

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