Billboard’s Latest Prayer

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Billboard is notorious for brown-nosing the majors, a strategy that carries obvious long-term issues.

The magazine had a circulation of about 21,000 in 2008, down from 33,000 in 2000, according to an audit shared by the Wall Street Journal.  Now, Billboard is hoping to cater towards the unsigned set, and make handsome subscription revenues in the process.

Unsigned artists and healthy revenues rarely appear in the same sentence, though Billboard is hoping to make the two dance.  The publication is planning to launch a service for unsigned acts that will track activity across a range of digital and traditional outlets, also according to the Journal.  That includes platforms ranging from Twitter to terrestrial radio, and everything in-between.

And, in exchange for this healthy reporting dose – and exposure to labels, managers, and other companies – Billboard is aiming to charge $100 per year, per artist.

Is that a prayer?  The question is whether enough starving artists will pay for the privilege.  According to a recent back-of-the-envelope calculation by Digital Music News, the average CD Baby artist makes $174 annually.  And, unsurprisingly, many entrepreneurs in the space are experiencing difficulty getting smaller artists to spend money for sophisticated analytics and marketing services.

Perhaps these services are too fluffy when stacked next to bread-and-butter distribution utilities like Tunecore, but most unsigned acts appear to be skipping the frills.  Then again, this is Billboard, a venerable brand easily recognized among the army of aspiring artists.  On top of that, MySpace Music is joining the effort, and the strategy potentially includes other large media partners.  The unsigned artists will be ranked in a newly-created, “Dreamseekers” chart.

Stay tuned…