Blue Note Web site embraces the graying of digital

DENVER (Billboard) - Visitors to Blue Note’s Web site will be in for a surprise in late August.

The label is in the process of revamping the site to become a social network and digital music store for fans of jazz and blues -- the staples of the Blue Note catalog -- rather than a simple promotional Web site for its artists.

It’s a bold move for a label whose core age demographic is 35-54 -- far older than the typical 18-34 age group that virtually all other digital music services target these days.

But Blue Note general manager Zach Hochkeppel thinks the digital music market has overlooked older music fans for far too long and that the time has come to start teaching old dogs new tricks.

“They need to be brought into the fold,” he said. “No marketing and no attention is usually paid to an older demographic. They’re sort of ignored and neglected by media in general. Youth is always the first and foremost target, (which) sends the message to the older consumer that ‘This isn’t for you.’”

Although the assumption is that digital music is a format for young adults, studies show that older users are in fact quite active with new media.

A December Ipsos TEMPO survey found 35- to 54-year-olds made up 31 percent of those users who paid for music downloads. When you include those 55 and over, adults beyond the age of 34 make up about 40 percent of all paid a la carte downloaders -- twice the proportion that teens account for. They also download more songs than average: nine per month compared with the average five across all generations.

The generation gap is similar for music subscription services, where 35- to 54-year-olds represent 45 percent of those who exclusively use paid streaming or subscription-based music services. Meanwhile, an April study by the same company found that only 10 percent of 25- to 54-year-olds admitted to downloading music from peer-to-peer networks, compared with 21 percent of the 24-34 group and 27 percent of the 18-24 bracket.


Here’s an age group that is more willing to pay for music than younger fans and has more money to do so. So why has it been left out of the picture?

For starters, the older demographic in general is less interested in new music. An April Ipsos survey found that 67 percent of music downloaders aged 34-54 say they look for older music not easily found in record stores, while 41 percent pointed to current hits. But those figures can increase dramatically when focused on niche genres like jazz or classical.

Some of Blue Note’s releases that don’t get much placement in record stores experience 30 percent or more digital sales, far above the industry average. For Robert Glasper’s “In My Element,” released in March, 49 percent of its first-week sales, and 31 percent of its total sales to date, have been digital.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Sony Classics release “Appassionato” sold more digital copies than physical ones upon its release in January. It peaked at No. 2 on the iTunes sales chart and finished the first week with 57.1 percent of its sales digital; to date, 30 percent of its sales have been digital.

“It’s a tiny fraction (of digital music buyers), but they’re people who buy a massive amount of music,” Hochkeppel said.

Ipsos analyst Matt Kleinschmit saids other digital music services, particularly those based on a subscription model, would do well to establish a niche themselves -- and when it comes to age, aim higher rather than lower.

“A lot of the services are using a one-size-fits-all approach to their marketing,” he said. “They think it’s geared toward youth, and they market in that direction. But the reality is these services need to pick who their market is and then superserve that niche. That’s the only way they’re going to grow.”

Slowly, more digital music services are targeting the older user with niche music tastes. Blue Note’s pending Web site is just the latest. Universal Music Group opened a digital jazz and classical music service in the United Kingdom in January, and last December a social networking site aimed at the 35-and-up crowd called Urban Boomer (UBTunes) went live.